‘We normally have crime in Suffolk, but not like this.’
Published 5:57 pm Friday, May 20, 2022
Police Chief says department taking action to curb gun violence
Gun violence in Suffolk is “way beyond the norm,” and Police Chief Al Chandler vows to make a serious and significant impact in curbing it.
In May alone, three people have died and four have been injured in shootings in the city, and four people have died this year, according to Suffolk Police, including a man with life-threatening injuries after being shot Friday morning in the 600 block of East Washington Street.
In the 23 publicly disclosed shooting incidents this year, 14 have come within a one-mile radius of East Washington Street and the BALM Church East Campus in the downtown area. Five other shootings have occurred within a two-mile radius of College Drive in North Suffolk.
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In 2021 and 2020, there were 12 homicides, six in each year.
Chandler said there has been an exponential increase in the magnitude of the shootings in the city. He and Mayor Mike Duman addressed the issue at the end of Wednesday’s City Council meeting.
“The recklessness of these individuals is different than what we’re accustomed to seeing,” Chandler said in an interview after the meeting. “It’s always bad to take actions that may intentionally take human life, but when you’re expending such a large amount of rounds, indiscriminately, it’s just beyond comprehension.”
In terms of sheer numbers, Chandler can recall similar times over the course of his 23 years in Suffolk, “but the number, the back-and-forth, the separate groups shooting at each other for longer periods of times, it’s not normal the types of weapons that we’re dealing with and we’re confiscating, more higher-power weapons, so we see that this is a problem, but we also see that it is groups, it’s not just all over the place. We see some connectivity and we’ll continue to work on that.”
Chandler said his department has received good intelligence on recent shootings, contrary to the perception that people don’t talk to police following a shooting.
“People are talking,” Chandler said. “This is not our average and normal crime. The indiscriminate gunfire is way beyond what is the norm. And we’ve had a good number of citizens come and really try to give us credible information. What we lack right now (are) eyewitnesses that are willing to come forward and say, ‘Yes, I saw it. Yes, I would come to court.’ However, that being said, we have gotten really strong information.”
Chandler said even people who haven’t talked to the police in the past are doing so now, saying what they’re seeing is too much and something has to be done. And he said it doesn’t matter to the young people committing the crimes that they’re destroying the lives of others as well as their own.
“The danger involved when you’re doing that much shooting in a neighborhood, there are children there,” Chandler said. “There are elderly there. There are bystanders there. And that seems not to matter to these young people who are committing these acts.”
But prosecutors have to have an airtight case to get a conviction, and if there’s room for reasonable doubt, Chandler says that means a potential killer is back on the street.
“One of the more difficult things to law enforcement and especially cases of this magnitude is if we get a case to court,” Chandler said, “and the judge says that that guy, he probably did it, that means he’s not guilty and they get to come back out and become more powerful on the street, and we’re committed to not letting that happen.”
Duman, who acknowledged not being as vocal about the issue as he should have, said he’s heard the concerns from residents and is committed to addressing them and reducing gun violence.
He said he has had numerous conversations with Chandler and City Manager Al Moor about the increasing gun violence in the city, and violent crime around the state has gotten the attention of Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who on May 9 announced the creation of a statewide violent crime task force.
Duman has also been attending regional meetings with other Hampton Roads mayors and city managers in recent months to look for ways they can work together on the issue.
“Everybody’s talking about, ‘We’ve got to do something, we’ve got to do something.’ We’ve got to understand that this is something that didn’t happen overnight,” Duman said. “It’s not going to get fixed overnight. We need to address — I don’t know where this term came from — the low-hanging fruit, if you will, the easy stuff. What can we do now to make a difference?”
He said they can’t change society, or provide for mentors, jobs, an education or other things overnight.
“We all know that these are things that contribute to the issue,” Duman said. “But can we do lights? Can we do cameras? Can we have patrols going here? Can we get our citizens involved? These are things that we can do and these are things we are actively working on.”
Duman said he is unconcerned about the cost of tackling the issue of gun violence in the city and suggested that any needed money could come out of the city’s reserves.
“Make no mistake,” he said. “There’s no question whatsoever that public safety is top of mind. You can count on that. As a city, this council, the city manager, we are committed to allocating any and all available resources to addressing this issue.”
Chandler said there’s going to be a cost to tackling the issue, but it won’t just be a monetary one, and the department has a comprehensive plan to do it.
“What that cost is, sometimes we’re going to pull over a car and it might be just some nice citizen in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Chandler said. “We’re going to make sure that we conduct the traffic stop professionally … and make sure we operate as safely and effectively as possible.
“We’ve got to get down in the trenches. We’ve got to do old-fashioned, good-old police work. We’ve got to knock on doors. We’ve got to talk to people. We’ve got to look for furtive movements. We’ve got to look for people with weapons and at times, I’ll be honest, that makes some citizens uncomfortable. Well, we’re all uncomfortable right now with the indiscriminate gunfire.”
Chandler said he has made strategic shifts in how officers and other resources have been deployed to tackle the issue and target specific areas that have experienced increased gun violence, and target people the department believes are involved at specific times, even using school resource officers to help with investigating cases in the evenings and deploying undercover officers. He said officers are running down every lead they get, and he’s using data and every available resource to best use them.
“Yes, they’re tired, but they know why they signed up,” Chandler said. “Yes, they’re frustrated because we’re down behind these law violators, these menaces to public safety, we’re right behind them. In several of these situations we have been right in the area. But everything has to line up perfectly for us in these situations. They’re very quick, and there’s an incredible level of intensity. And we’re trying to bring it. We have the equipment to do it, but sometimes you need a little luck too.”
And there’s some prayer action going on, also.
Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett noted a prayer vigil on gun violence in the city and the country that took place Wednesday involving several churches, including Metropolitan Baptist Church, BALM Church East Campus, BALM Church South Campus, New Mt. Joy Food for Living, Rising St. James and Living Waters Christian Center and Piney Grove Baptist Church.
The Ex-Felon Entrepreneurship Retail Museum organization will also be holding a community march to help end gun violence at noon June 4 starting at its location at 444 N. Main St. and going to the Mills E. Godwin Courts Building and back.
Chandler said the department has some long-range plans in place to help curb gun violence, and he wants to have more resources to tackle the city’s gang and drug problems.
As an example, he said when an officer arrests a drug dealer, “we have to come behind that arrest with pouring resources into that environment. When we get ready to pour resources — education, housing, all of those things that have been discussed over and over again, we pour those resources in, it gives people options.”
But he also cautioned that Suffolk’s population, at 94,324, is still rising, and crime could rise with it. He also said the onus has to, ultimately, fall on people to make better choices, and that the choices they make have consequences.
“You have to also consider that this is a growing city and the fact that most people are coming in, and more people coming in from different places,” Chandler said, “and sometimes that’s going to bring in some different mindsets, and some different habits, and all of those habits may not be good things. So we’re going to see that as we get larger, we’re going to see different crimes and crime go up, and we just have to be able to respond to that.”
Still, “we normally have crime in Suffolk,” Chandler said, “but not like this.”
2022 shootings in Suffolk
- May 20 – 1 injured in shooting in 600 block of E. Washington St.
- May 19 – 2 unoccupied vehicles struck by bullets, no injuries, 1000 block Centerbrooke Lane.
- May 16 – 1 injured in shooting in 400 block of Hunter Street.
- May 15 – 1 killed in shooting in 100 block of Nancy Drive.
- May 12 – 1 killed in shooting in 100 block of Forest Oak Lane at Suffolk Station Apartments off Carolina Road.
- May 9 – 1 injured in shooting in 200 block of Jackson Street, two residences struck by bullets.
- May 4 – 1 killed, 1 injured (alleged shooter) in shooting at Hoffler Apartments in 2200 block of East Washington Street. 1 arrested.
- May 2 – Shooting into occupied home in 200 block of North Lloyd Street.
- April 26 – 1 juvenile injured, several apartments and vehicles struck by bullets at Hoffler Apartments.
- April 12 – 1 boy injured by accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound in 600 block of Kinsey Lane.
- April 10 – Man at Harbour View Medical Center emergency room with gunshot wound to arm.
- April 8 – Occupied residence struck by bullets in 6000 block of Bradford Drive.
- April 1 – Shooting in 200 block of Pine Street, vehicle hit by bullets, no reports of injuries.
- April 1 – Shooting downtown in 400 block of Wilson Street home with bullet holes, no reports of injuries.
- March 29 – 1 injured in shooting in the 6200 block of College Drive in North Suffolk.
- March 27 – 1 killed, 1 injured in shooting in the 6300 block of Townsend Place and 6500 block of Hampton Roads Parkway area of North Suffolk, vehicle damage from bullets.
- March 19 – 2 injured in 900 block of Brook Avenue.
- Feb. 17 – Shooting into occupied home in 2000 block of Freeney Avenue, no reported injuries.
- Feb. 6 – 2 injured in shooting in 100 block of Dill Road.
- Feb. 3 – Shooting connected to robbery at EZ Food Mart and Deli, 1200 block of White Marsh Road, suspects and clerk exchange gunfire with no reported injuries.
- Jan. 12 – 1 injured in shooting, carjacking incident in 6100 block of Brookwood Drive.
- Jan. 10 – Shooting of occupied vehicle, 2 occupied homes in 300 block of South Division Street, no injuries.
- Jan. 9 – Shooting into occupied residence in 100 block of South Division Street, no injuries.
Total: 4 killed, 14 injured in 2022. The city had 6 homicides in 2021 and 6 in 2020.
Source: Suffolk Police via information provided in news releases.