City downplays safety concerns on White Marsh Road

Published 9:22 pm Thursday, June 18, 2015

Neither the city nor the police department was made aware by Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia of any safety concerns before the nonprofit organization decided to close its Suffolk office citing safety concerns, according to city spokeswoman Diana Klink.

Senior Services announced the closure of its office at 1226 White Marsh Road, in the White Marsh Shopping Center, on Wednesday, effective immediately. Chief Executive Officer John Skirven cited concerns for the safety of employees, volunteers and clients.

During the past several months, regular staff and volunteers working out of the office had expressed growing discomfort about working there, according to Skirven, and he said an incident earlier this week was the deciding factor in the decision.

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Klink said in an email the incident in question occurred at 1:23 p.m. June 8. A vehicle had a window shot out a block south of the shopping center.

No one was injured, Klink said, and police are investigating the incident. “This was not related in any way to any business in the shopping center, it just happened to occur in the general vicinity,” she said.

According to Klink, the police department researched calls for service from businesses in the shopping center and didn’t find many.

Police routinely and proactively patrol the area, she said, ensuring buildings are secure throughout the evening and conducting traffic stops in the parking lot.

“Further, the Suffolk Police Department has not had any businesses express concern to them regarding crime or safety issues in the area. Overall, the Suffolk Police Department has seen very little activity of concern to them at this location,” Klink said.

Responding to the city’s take on the situation, Debbie Schwartz, Senior Services’ director of development and community relations, said the decision to close the office was an internal matter and taken in response to the concerns of the organization’s people.

“We don’t want the public and the media reading more into this announcement,” Schwartz said. “It’s simply a response taken to ensure staff, volunteers and clients go about life with confidence that their personal safety is not at risk.”

The office closed on Tuesday. Schwartz said the organization is still arranging to move out.

It has been contacting clients, she said, to make sure their needs are being taken care of, and it is also seeking other places where staff and volunteers can meet with clients and for events.

The organization already has announced its MedCare Access events that had been scheduled for the White Marsh Road office for June and July will instead take place at the Suffolk Workforce Development Center, 157 N. Main St., second floor.

The events now will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on June 24-25 and July 1-2, 8-9, 15, 22-23 and 29-30.