Community gathers for safety at Law Enforcement Forum

Published 5:55 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2023

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With a focus on fighting crime in the City of Suffolk, law enforcement officials were joined by more than 30 local residents and city officials Thursday to discuss public safety.

Held by Suffolk Commonwealth Attorney Narendra Pleas, Chief of Police Alfred Chandler and Chief Deputy Major David Miles, representing the office of Suffolk Sheriff E.C. Harris, the Thursday, Feb. 23 Law Enforcement Forum took place at St. Paul Rzua Church, 619 Spruce St.

Those attending not only heard updates on the three official’s offices and how they work, but it also provided the community with the opportunity to ask questions.

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Joining the city’s top law enforcement officials were Mayor Michael D. Duman and councilmen John Rector, LeOtis Williams and Leroy Bennett.

“I wanted to come and in the trying time that we’ve had since COVID, coming out of COVID and the last year that we had in Suffolk, to talk to our community, to let them know what we’re doing to let them know what’s been happening, and also to get feedback from you all,” Pleas said in opening the meeting.

Pleas said the location was selected for a specific reason.

“There’s no point in having this meeting in Whaleyville. There’s no point in having this meeting on Bridge Road,” she said. “A lot of problems that we’re having occur within a small radius of this location. So the people who are affected here are probably affected the most by some of the things that we have occur over the last year.”

Pleas said she believes it’s very fitting to have the meeting in this section of the city to address it for these communities. 

“We don’t want to go somewhere where the problems aren’t,” she told the crowd. “We want to come and tackle where we have problems and we want to be real about what we’re doing.”

Issues such as police violence, license plate and gunshot detection technology, speeding, programs for teens and curbing the crimes as Suffolk’s population increases, were brought up during the event. A volunteer for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America asked how police deal with the complexities of dealing with public shootings while citizens with concealed carrying guns are in the same area.

“Generally when we come to a scene, if there are guns drawn, we issue orders and we have to take the time to peel the layers back and investigate and try to get to the bottom of what’s taking place,” Chandler said. “We work within the confines of the law, whatever that law is. As the police department, our duty and responsibility really isn’t to decide if we like or dislike the law. Our responsibility is to affect it. To make certain that we are enforcing the laws that our government bodies have instituted. So if there’s a situation where guns are there, then we do our best to work through that situation safely and effectively.”

Following the meeting Duman addressed the crowd on safety, speaking about a future ordinance creating a public safety committee, resource allocation for law enforcement, getting the right people in law enforcement, and going to his fifth mayoral forum along with fellow Hampton Roads cities to address violence. 

“What can we do as a region to make noise in Richmond, to create the legislation that makes it easier for our law enforcement officers to do their job, that makes it easier for our commonwealth attorneys to prosecute those individuals,” Duman said.

He then explained it is a three stage process.

“There has to be a law,” he said. “There has to be someone to enforce the law; and there has to be someone to prosecute the perpetrators. And unless there’s a breakdown there, then the system doesn’t work.”

Unfortunately, he said he believes there are some things that do need to be changed that will allow our law enforcement personnel to do their jobs and to be more effective while at the same time protecting individuals rights. 

“I can tell you that the thought process in Hampton Roads is ‘Let’s do what we can to make our cities safer,’” Duman said.

Suffolk resident Tina Ralph, an employee of the Commissioner of Revenue’s Office, shared on her thoughts about the meeting.

“I think the meeting was very informative…knowledgeable, little bit of tweaks here and there, but as it grows, as it continues, I think it will advance and be better — even with the attendance,” Ralph said. “So, I enjoyed it. I’m glad I made it.”

Suffolk Alumni Chapter of Delta Sigma Beta Sorority President Belinda Pitts, who is also church clerk for Greater First Baptist Church, said she was glad for the opportunity to come to the event.

“I liked that they explained the difference between the two entines, the sheriff and the police,” Pitts said. “I think that was very important because we need to know. I have questions myself and now I know who I need to go to about certain things, so that was very keen.” 

City employee and social action co-chair for Suffolk Alumni Delta Sigma Beta Sorority Robin Whitley also spoke about her thoughts on the meeting.

“Like both of them, I really feel it was beneficial, good for the city to have,” Whitley said. “I appreciate the transparency, them explaining all of the things that they’re doing in the city and really being open and honest.”

Whitley said she was pleased with the turnout, especially in this part of town because a lot of times people don’t want to come to this part of the city. I felt like it could always be better, but it was a good turnout. The Question and Answer portion was pretty good. I think people ask questions, but I think the more that they continue to do this, the more people will come out.”

Commonwealth Attorney Narendra Pleas spoke on her thoughts following the forum.

“I think the forum tonight went very, very well,” Pleas said. “It probably exceeded my expectations about who was here, the representation from the different organizations and different people in the community. So I am very excited about the outcome and I think the questions that were presented tonight were fair.”

Following expressing how “encouraged” she is by the meeting, Pleas spoke of her hopes for the meetings becoming a trend in the future.

“I hope so. They follow in what we started last year in my office, which was Conversations with the Commonwealth, and that was just me,” she said. “But to have the other pieces of the puzzle for public safety present as well, I think will be good going forward.”

Pleas said she hopes that they bring humanity to the citizens about what it is that we really do, so that people can really appreciate the positive things they have tried to do for the community 

“Not that that has anything to do with the citizens right?” Pleas said. “We have a job to do, but that people really understand what’s going on. And because of that, we’ll be more willing to help. So that communication, that support, it goes both ways.”