Editorial – Crime wave is a crisis
Published 5:43 pm Tuesday, September 13, 2022
Suffolk Police Chief Al Chandler is new enough to his post that he doesn’t bear full or even primary responsibility for the rash of violent crime and death that has engulfed the city in 2022.
In fact, we give him credit for several important actions that, in time, should help restore order.
That said, the rookie chief must choose his words carefully during what is, by any measure, a crisis for Suffolk, especially its downtown area, which is on the cusp of greatness but could blow that potential if the current crime wave continues much longer.
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Chandler, a veteran lawman but new to his role as a community’s top cop, will learn quickly that leadership requires earning and maintaining the confidence of the citizenry you serve. That means owning a problem, not minimizing it.
In a recent interview, Chandler seemed to downplay the surge in violent crime this year, when homicides are on pace to more than double the six recorded in each of the last two years.
“We’ve always had gun violence as long as I’ve been here,” the chief told a reporter. “We are seeing it at a higher-than-normal level, definitely, but I guess I try to be careful not to sensationalize it because the more people hear about it, the more people look to hear about it. It’s the topic of the day.”
He continued: “The numbers are higher, but it’s not earth-shattering. But, of course, any life that is lost is a tragedy.”
Actually, the current crisis is quite shattering, both for the families of those killed or maimed and, significantly, the many law-abiding residents who are living in fear, scared to leave their homes lest they be robbed or walk into the path of random gunfire.
We were struck during the last City Council meeting by the heartfelt words of a downtown resident, a recent transplant who sang Suffolk’s praises for attracting her here in the first place but added that safety concerns might soon drive her family out. She, like we, noted the less-than-comforting words from the city’s police chief, who’s essentially telling the citizenry to chill out.
Chandler would be better served to accept the crisis for what it is and speak forthrightly to the community about solutions. He’s got much to talk about, including installation of portable cameras in hot spots like the intersection of Saratoga and West Washington streets, gunshot detection technology, and special cameras that capture images of the rear of vehicles. We commend his proactiveness.
To his credit, he’s also been quick to talk candidly about challenges, including the enormous time officers are having to devote to mental health calls and a broader manpower shortage due to unfilled patrol slots.
We encourage Chandler to continue to beat the drum for changes, likely by the General Assembly, in the way government and society manage the growing mental-health crisis. The current burden on police proves again that the state is treating mental health as a criminal problem, when the solution is better and more widely available treatment.
The chief must also press the City Council for better wages, benefits and incentives for his officers in a difficult labor economy that shows no signs of waning.
We continue to have high hopes for Chandler in his important role. Aligning his words with his actions will position him to not just endure the current crisis but make Suffolk safe again.