Richmond Police Chief Ray Tarasovic and Mayor Dwight Jones address reporters.
It wasn’t the numbers, but the nature of Richmond’s recent violent crime string that prompted Mayor Dwight Jones to address the issue at a Tuesday morning news conference.
Jones, flanked by Richmond Police Chief Ray Tarasovic and the force’s command staff, condemned violence that has harmed the city’s most vulnerable residents: children. In February, a 7-year-old was shot in Fulton Hill. In April, 8-year-old Marty Cobb was beaten to death in South Richmond while trying to defend his sister. On Mother’s Day, a 5-year old boy was injured in a shooting at Whitcomb Court. And on Sunday night, a 2-year-old was struck with a bullet in South Richmond.
“No child should grow up gathering memories of being shot in their neighborhood,” Jones told a room of reporters at the Richmond Police Headquarters. “That is unacceptable, and I am outraged.”
Jones says he reached out to the families of the children involved in the incidents. He urged residents to cooperate with police investigations and come forward if they have any information about the incidents, three of which remain unsolved.
Major crime has dropped 49 percent in the city over the last decade, but in the first five months of 2014, it rose 2 percent. Through those five months, six more homicides occurred than during the same period in 2013. Arrests were made in nine of the 20 homicides in 2014, Tarasovic says. City police also made arrests this year in connection with six homicides in 2013, he added.
With 20 homicides through May, the city is on pace to eclipse the 37 recorded last year.
Hit hardest has been the South Side, which has tallied 13 homicides since the start of the year. Council members Reva Trammell (8th District) and Michelle Mosby (9th District), held a neighborhood meeting last night at the Southside Community Service Center on Hull Street Road to address residents’ concerns.
“We have got to be the eyes and ears for each other,” Mosby told the room of at least 100 attendees. “We have got to be shade open, not shade drawn, so that people know that if something happens, someone is watching and they will call 911.”
A long list of police officers, city officials and state representatives took a crack at the solution to the neighborhood crime plaguing the South Side: the demolition of blighted buildings, the removal of guns from the street, the institution of neighborhood watch programs, the mentoring of young people. City residents had ideas, too.
“The reason why this is going on is because the young guys that are doing the killing aren’t coming to these meetings,” says Michael Mack, 49, a resident of the Blackwell community. “And there’s no programs to get them off the streets.”
Tempers flared during the public comment period as residents vented frustration about continued promises from elected officials, promises that have only led to more meetings where more promises are made. At one point, Tarasovic shouted down a man who spoke about what he perceived as unfair treatment that neighborhood teens received from the police. Some filed out during the heated exchange.
Richmond police will work with state police again this summer on an initiative to remove illegal guns from the street; nearly 150 were removed last summer, Tarasovic says. The department has also reestablished monthly community meetings to work with residents on combating crime. More than 100 people attended the first meeting in the East End this past Saturday, Tarasovic says.
The community meetings are billed as a way to build trust between residents and the department, an important endeavor if the department is to prevent, not just solve, crime.
“Communities can be proactive,” Jones says, “and communities must be proactive if we are going to change this paradigm.”