Interim chief highlights gun-related crimes in Huntersville area

Published 7:25 pm Friday, October 1, 2021

Residents in North Suffolk’s Huntersville community heard from Interim Police Chief Al Chandler on gun violence and other public safety issues during a Sept. 30 forum at Little Grove Baptist Church.

Councilman Lue Ward, who represents the community as part of the Nansemond Borough, helped stage the forum, and Mayor Mike Duman, Councilman LeOtis Williams, Planning Commissioner Johnnie Edwards and Republican House of Delegates candidate Mike Dillender also attended.

“It’s so important for us to realize what’s going on,” Ward said. “And I want to make sure we have our community as safe as possible.”

Chandler acknowledged the increase in criminal activity in Huntersville and the surrounding College Square and Windward Estates neighborhoods, noting a trio of brandishing firearms incidents in March, May and June, a shooting in an occupied building on Community Drive and three shootings of buildings on Brookwood Drive.

There were also two shootings from vehicles, on Brookwood Court and Old Town Point Road.

“In both of these cases, someone was grazed,” Chandler said, “but also in both of those cases, it’s important to note that … the victims did not want to prosecute.”

Chandler also noted two additional aggravated assaults in the area involving people from a neighboring city who “had come over to fight young people over here, (and) one of the fights ended up being a shooting.”

In one of those situations, Chandler said Suffolk Police had a cooperative victim and it was able to make two arrests, but in the other, the victim did not cooperate.

“As you can see, four incidents where people were actually shot or at least grazed by bullets, three of the four we had victims who would not comply with the investigation,” Chandler said. “That makes what we have to do a lot more difficult.”

But he said they don’t just drop those cases. Rather, Suffolk Police not only investigates the crime, but also investigates the weapons used, and it has had “real success” in tracking down what is happening with them.
“We see that the people that are out committing these types of violence don’t have either the legal authority to carry them, as in being of age, or, in many cases, the weapons are stolen,” Chandler said. “So those are other things that we really try to dial in on and focus on.”

He said solutions to gun-related crimes, in Huntersville and elsewhere, are to have neighbors talk to each other and cooperate with law enforcement. “We need to be partners,” he said. He also encouraged people to have camera systems installed that can be used as a deterrent and as a way to gather evidence of a crime.

Duman said at the forum he has had discussions with Chandler and City Manager Al Moor about steps to combat crime, including ensuring adequate lighting, cameras and upkeep of neighborhoods, that he said could happen “relatively quickly.” He also proposed creating a public safety board made up of representatives from the police, Suffolk Fire & Rescue, sheriff’s department, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office and the Western Tidewater Regional Jail.

Residents asked Chandler questions not only about gun violence, but also drug activity and combating speeding through the neighborhood. He said the department has speed tracking devices it can use to determine the extent of speeding and then deploy resources as needed to combat it.

In response to another question, he said there has not been as much gang activity in the city, with much of that activity in North Suffolk usually coming from neighboring communities.

He urged residents, several of whom praised the police response in their community, to keep calling when issues arise.

Suffolk Police is authorized to have about 200 officers, he said — 175 positions are currently filled. And though that sounds like a lot, they have to police the city’s 430 square miles 24 hours per day.

“We also need gang unit services, we also need detective bureau services, we also need the people that are inside,” Chandler said, “so I have about 100 people that police the city’s (430) square miles.”

He said that also includes other police functions, such as responding to shootings, stabbings, assaults, welfare checks, and multiple mental health calls, the latter being the biggest drain on officers’ time, as each of those call averages about 9.5 hours, “and we have many calls per day, multiple calls per shift that we are spending an extreme amount of hours.”

“You have to look at it all together to understand how, as much as we want to set a car in every neighborhood,” Chandler said, “we have to manage our resources the best we possibly can.”

Chandler also said that despite a shortage of officers, the Suffolk Police Department doesn’t use that “as an excuse not to provide the absolute best in quality service and law enforcement.” And while he acknowledged mistakes, “we inspect what we expect,” also noting what he described as a robust body camera program and strong body camera policy.

“So even though, yes, we are short, yes, we’re stretched thin, we continue to do the job that we have to do,” Chandler said. “If that means work more hours, if that means we come out of the office, we’ve done all of those things to make sure that what needs to get done is done.”