Officials play down recent homicides, tout comparison to surrounding cities

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 8, 2005

Terrance Britt, a renowned local cook, was stabbed to death in his Liberty Street apartment in April.

In July,

while talking with friends, 14-year-old Diane Holland was gunned down outside her Hunter Street home.

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Eric Ralph, a 28-year-old father of three, was shot dead outside a Carolina Road convenience store in early August.

Ten days ago, Sutaan R. Clark, 27, was shot to death in his Battery Avenue apartment, becoming the city’s fourth murder victim of the year.

Despite four homicides in the past five months, as many as the city had in all of 2004, Suffolk is still one of the safest cities in Hampton Roads, city officials said.

Between Jan. 1 and July 31, 2005, Suffolk had 24.1 major offenses – which include homicides, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, larcenies and motor vehicle thefts

– per 1,000 residents, according to police department statistics.

Norfolk, Portsmouth and Newport News all have higher rates per 1,000 people during the same time period. However, rates in Virginia Beach and Hampton are lower.

&uot;Suffolk… continues to be a safe place to live and work,&uot; said City Manager R. Steven Herbert during the City Council’s work session on Wednesday.

The police department is committed to making sure residents feel safe in their city, said Police Chief William Freeman.

In recent months, the police department has:

nCreated a position for an intelligence officer who will be responsible for receiving, verifying and disseminating information to appropriate units with the department. This officer will work with the department’s crime analyst to examine crime trends and forecast patterns, which will allow officers to attack crime at its core.

nEstablished more Neighbor-hood Watch programs, groups of citizens who work to prevent the spread of crime in their respective communities.

nTeamed up with proba-tion/parole to find hard-to-find probation violators.

nSent officers to spend time in neighborhoods, gathering intelligence on problem residences and people.

nWorked with landlords to conduct trespassing enforcement on problem properties.

nWorked independently, and with specialized units within the department, on proactive patrols in communities, said Major Larry E. Wilson. This has resulted in numerous arrests and the confiscations of 39 firearms and 160 drug items this year.

Police statistics show crime increases in areas north of Route 58 Bypass, including parts of Holland and East Constance roads, and on both sides of U.S. Route 460, to the Isle of Eight County line and Route 10 Bypass.

&uot;Those were alarming statistics to us at first,&uot; said Wilson. But closer investigation of the data showed that most of the increases are related to larcenies or gas-drive offs, rather than violent crimes.

But statistics do little to dispel the fear felt by some residents who live in areas where shootings have become increasing commonplace.

&uot;I don’t go out at night around here,&uot; said an elderly Second Avenue resident, who asked that his name not be used out of a fear of retribution. &uot;I don’t even sit on my porch after dark.&uot;

He is used to seeing drugs exchanging hands on the street corners near his home and hearing cars speed through the neighborhood at all hours, not even bothering to slow down for the many children playing near the road.

&uot;We need to see more police back here…and maybe a few speed bumps would help,&uot; he said. &uot;I’m scared some children are going to get hurt.&uot;

Eddie Hicks, president of the Lake Kennedy Civic League, said the police department appears to have beefed up patrols in his neighborhood in recent weeks.

The neighborhood has been plagued recently by a rash of vandalism lately: busted mailboxes, broken light bulbs, even playground equipment being set on fire.

Innocent people getting shot in their homes is a sign that something needs to be done, Hicks said, who believes drugs are at the root of most violent crimes.

&uot;We can do something about this if we really want to,&uot; Hicks said. &uot;Citizens and the police just need to work together to stop some of this foolish mess going on it our neighborhoods.

&uot;We need to pull together…and if people see something (suspicious) going on in their neighborhood, they need to call the police.&uot;