Safety Committee discuss school and city safety

Published 9:00 am Thursday, February 1, 2024

City and safety leaders returned for the Suffolk Public Safety Committee’s first meeting of 2024 with a few hot topics to review. Held on Wednesday, January 24 at City Hall, committee members discussed recent traffic camera data from the Suffolk Police Department, incidents at public housing and the recent safety threats towards Suffolk Public Schools.

January warrant sweep, Suffolk Redevelopment Housing Authority and gang issues

Interim Chief of Police James Buie discussed a Jan.18 warrant sweep during the Suffolk Public Safety Committee’s first meeting of 2024.

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“We do warrant sweeps in the police department pretty regularly. We don’t have a specific time that we do them and the goal is to take a lot of our outstanding warrants that have not been served and try to get them served,” Buie said. “This particular one, we worked with Probation and Parole to find ex-convicts, people who are not showing up for their probation call and just have pretty much fell off the map… as a result of that, 16 individuals were arrested with outstanding warrants and 26 warrants were served to those people.”

Buie also talked about four public housing properties owned by Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority: Chorey Park Apartments, Hoffler Apartments, Cypress Manor Apartments and Colander Bishop Meadows, detailing 2023 incidents that occurred in these areas. Buie says that four shootings occurred within occupied dwellings in Colander Bishop and 3 Cogic Square, two murders at both Colander Bishop and Cogic Square, one aggravated assault at Hoffler Apartments, two shootings into an occupied vehicle at Cogic Square and Colander Bishop, and one shooting into an occupied building in Hoffler Apartments. 

Buie talked about the challenges public housing presents SPD during the meeting, saying SPD and SRHA have met to work on rule enforcement in the developments.

“What we would like to see, and I’ve been fighting this battle since I was on the NET team in Suffolk Redevelopment Housing, it doesn’t appear that the housing rules are being enforced. Which is, for us, if you don’t enforce the little things, then the big things become harder to enforce,” Buie said. “So we have met periodically with Suffolk Redevelopment Housing Authority to work on that.”

To help with the needs of SRHA, Buie said that SPD has officers who work part-time at all SRHA locations. He also stated the events occurring in public housing aren’t coming from people who live in the areas but rather from outside entities “hanging out” in the areas. 

Despite SPD’s assistance, Buie expressed that SRHA rules should be enforced to hold residents accountable for any rule violations and to help fix issues. Buie, Moor and Mayor Michael D. Duman each agreed that SRHA should have a seat at the table with the committee and discuss what needs the committee can assist them with.

“I think we should definitely invite them to the next meeting and maybe you have a meeting with them, also in between the [City] Manager and what have you…,” Duman said. “If they’re doing all that they can do as far as enforcement, then we need to determine if there are any assets that we can provide to assist in that enforcement.”

Suffolk Public Schools Safety Threats

The recent safety threats directed toward Suffolk Public Schools was discussed during the Suffolk Public Safety Committee’s first meeting of 2024, with SPS Superintendent Dr. John B. Gordon III noting his work with law enforcement to keep students, staff, and administration safe.

“We really take a hard look at our protocols because our kids not only are having the disruption of their days and sometimes it’s for hours at a time, but also just the trauma of doing this. And, of course, it created a lot of concerns with our parents who are worried about [if] any of these are true,” Gordon said. 

Gordon discussed the potential consequences of threats made by juveniles and ways the division can address those children.

“From the kid’s side, if a kid is making an extremely poor choice, we have to work very closely with Chief Buie’s team to basically arrest [them] to really give them the understanding that you just committed a felony, and more than likely you won’t be back at that school,” Gordon said. “Because sometimes they don’t understand it – the kids will make these mistakes based on trying to get out of SOL testing, [they] got other things going on in school, or unfortunately because they want some attention. But [the] overall impact of it has really been an issue.”

Following the meeting, both Buie and Gordon provided further comments on the recent school threats. Gordon emphasized the potential trauma that these threats cause to students, staff, and the entire school community.

“I mean, anytime you have a threat to the building, regardless of how minor it is, we have to take that safety and security very seriously. And we’ve worked very closely with the emergency services team and all of Suffolk, and anybody that’s a part of this, we will always want to push for that person to be arrested and to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Gordon said.

Buie warned anyone considering making a false threat to the school, SPD along with the Commonwealth’s Attorney would hold that person accountable.

“If you make the poor choice of calling in a false threat to any school, any government building, any building whatsoever, as a police department and I know our Commonwealth’s Attorney would agree with us that we are going to hold you 100% accountable and we are going to prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law,” Buie said. “So if you’re a high school student or a young juvenile and you decide to do something like this, it is a felony to threaten to bomb or threaten to burn, it is a felony … So before you ever pick up the phone and make a false threat to any school, any government building or any building whatsoever. You need to think about these things because we are going to hold you accountable. We are going to figure out who you are because we have that technology also, and we’re going to hold you 100% accountable to the law,” he ended.

The next Public Safety Committee meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 27.