Editorial – Time to reevaluate City’s safety needs

Published 3:29 pm Friday, September 15, 2023

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As we say farewell to Suffolk Police Chief Al Chandler and congratulate him on his over four decades of service to the City of Suffolk, we must look forward to the qualities we seek in his successor and the changes we wish to see inside SPD.

Replacing a police chief is never an easy task and requires an immense amount of vetting and due process to ensure the best fit for the city’s needs will be met. The search also allows the city to reevaluate its law enforcement agency and identify the most critical needs of Suffolkians.

One critical aspect that needs urgent attention is the increase in violent crime in the city. According to Virginia State Police, violent crimes include offenses of murder, forcible sex offenses, robbery, and aggravated assault.

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VSP’s Crime in Virginia report shows that in its violent crime section, murder and non-negligent manslaughter saw an increase during 2022, with 12 in the city. That’s up from seven in 2021, three in 2020, six in 2019 and just two in 2018. Aggravated assaults ran about the same in 2022 and the year prior at 372 and 383, respectively. However, these are up from past years as the report shows aggravated assaults at 299 in 2020, 173 in 2019 and 151 in 2018, according to the report. Robberies and rapes ran in the same range during the five years between 2018 and 2022, according to the report. There were 61 robberies in 2022, up by two at 59 in 2021. The reports show there were 49 robbery reports in 2020, down from 67 in 2019 and 69 in 2018. The VSP report also shows rape is on the rise in the city. Forcible rape violations were up over the past five years, hitting 35 in 2022. That’s up from 29 in 2021 and 20 in 2020. In 2019 there were 30 reported forcible rapes and 2018 saw 31 reported forcible rapes, according to the report.

The community deserves answers about the department’s plans to combat this problem. That answer must be met with the public’s resounding sense of security. Likewise, the public and city council must understand the challenges SPD faces while combating violent crime, and plans must be put in place to assist the department to be effective. This must also be met with a resounding level of confidence from the public that those in leadership roles will put their agendas to the side for the betterment and safety of Suffolk.

Another aspect that requires attention is transparency within the police department. Transparency builds trust between the community and law enforcement and ensures accountability. The public holds law enforcement to higher standards than most government agencies. When members of law enforcement violate laws, they break public trust and lose credibility, no matter the severity of the infraction.

As the city searches for a new police chief, we must prioritize candidates committed to transparency in their operations. This includes openly sharing data on violent crime increase, use of force incidents, disciplinary actions, and community engagement efforts.

The events of recent years have highlighted the importance of reform and rebuilding trust between the police and the communities they serve. It’s time for cities to invest in more innovative policing models, training in de-escalation techniques and mental health crisis response teams. These reforms should be championed by the new police chief, who must be willing to adapt and embrace change.

As we celebrate Chandler’s retirement as a dedicated police chief who served the citizens well in his time with the Suffolk Police Department, we must seize the opportunity to re-imagine policing in our community.

Transparency, accountability, and community engagement should be at the forefront of our expectations for the new chief, who will lead us into a safer tomorrow.