Public Safety Committee gets organized at first meeting

Published 5:23 pm Friday, May 26, 2023

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It was a meeting of the minds to address Suffolk’s safety as city leaders came together for their first meeting as the city’s new Public Safety Committee Wednesday, May 24. 

The hour-long organizational meeting brought together members of the city, police, school and fire departments at the City Council Conference room to discuss early strategies and the groups mission to “improve the safety of the city’s communities and neighborhoods, while serving as a formal channel of communication.” 

Coming to the table were Mayor Michael D. Duman, City Manager Albert S. Moor, City Manager Office Assistant Debbie Minnick, City Council Members Roger Fawcett and Leroy Bennett, Sheriff E.C. Harris, Assistant City Attorney Rebecca Powers, Commonwealth’s Attorney Narendra R. Pleas, Suffolk Deputy Chief of Criminal Investigations Major James Buie, Deputy Fire Chief James Dickens, Western Tidewater Regional Jail Superintendent William Smith, Suffolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III, and Suffolk Public Schools Coordinator of Student Services David LeFevre. 

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Duman stressed that the group is not “an oversight committee” or “crime committee,” noting there are a lot of things they want to address.

“Anything at all that directly or indirectly is going to affect the safety of our citizens, that’s what we’re looking to address,” Duman said.

Councilman Fawcett and Commonwealth’s Attorney Pleas were both selected as candidates as vice chair for the committee. In a 5-4 vote, Pleas was named vice chair. 

This was followed by discussion on the group’s main topic — how to provide effective communication between citizens and the committee on the safety needs in their areas. 

Duman discussed his conversation with the police department on dividing Suffolk into zones regarding their decisions for safety, affirming the city not being a “one size fits all.”

“What’s going on in Holland isn’t what’s going on in Harbour View. What’s going on downtown is not what’s going on in Hillpoint or wherever,” Duman said. “So the decisions that we make and the needs are distinct based on geographical locations, and of course the demographics within the geographics.”

Moor suggested having citizen representatives or groups to help consolidate the issues of their community to the committee.

“How do we establish a chain of communication from us to a group that’s in one of the different zones. Whether it’s a church representative, maybe it’s somebody in the pilot or civic league,” Moor said. “How can we get the word out and how can we get the communication back about what’s concerning our citizens? So that’s the thought process of how we open up communication with our citizens.”

During the discussion, Pleas suggested that chosen representatives be selected through criminal background checks and to help select someone that they don’t have to be concerned about.

“My concern is that we will ask for people to apply and we know nothing about them,” Please said. “As a public safety committee, I’m looking out for people’s public safety.”

Regarding gaining safety information for the schools, Duman said he believes it needs to be done “a little bit differently” due to the focus being within the schools.

However, Gordon replied that it depends on the issue and reaffirmed that 90% of issues do start in neighborhoods or online.

“We have to be aware of the source and what comes out of it will depend on the relationships, of course, between the teachers and administrators have with those students but also who the kids have in the neighborhood they can trust and that’s going to lead to the proactive measures we got to take,” Gordon said.

Following the meeting, Pleas called the first meeting “a good start.”

“We, in this room, come together very frequently and formally and this is just a way to formalize what we do already,” she said.

Duman said he is “elated” on how it went.

“This was our first meeting so it was more of an organizational meeting. It was a thought process,” Duman said. “We were able to put out a mission statement for our citizens to know what we’re doing and we’re opening up the discussion to develop a process that allows us to collaborate among agencies but also receive information regarding information from our citizens.” 

Gordon said he believes it established the foundation of getting the people together.

“To eliminate the silos of highly individual departments not necessarily always knowing that we need to communicate more, and then really having a huge focus especially as we’re approaching the summer when some students as well as members of our community have more free time,” he said.

The next Public Safety Committee meeting is Wednesday, July 26.