Norfolk has war zones. There are neighborhoods where gunfire is so frequent that residents hit the floor when they hear gunshots.
This cannot be acceptable. The Commonwealth’s Attorney is the Chief Law Enforcement Officer in the city and must strive every day to reduce violence.
A multitude of issues help violence to thrive. Not all the issues are within the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s control, but those that are must be confronted.
First, the relationship between the police and the Commonwealth’s Attorney is poor. This must be remedied.
I believe that I can fix this problem quickly. The Norfolk Fraternal Order of Police endorsed me. It should be noted that the other candidates did not even talk to the FOP. This lack of respect for what police do every day will make a collaborative relationship with the police almost impossible. While I made it clear to the police that, when appropriate, I would hold them accountable for their actions, I also told them that I understand the difficult situations that they face every day and that I value the relationship between prosecutor and investigator.
As corny as it sounds, the television show “Law and Order” has it correct when it says that there are two agencies in the criminal justice system working to protect victims. They are the police who investigate crimes and the prosecutors who actually try the offenders. Without a solid working relationship, both agencies fall short of their potential.
After prosecuting very difficult murder trials, I can attest that only by working together do the best results occur in cases. I do not look at police as the enemy; every police officer that I know got into the profession because they wanted to help people. Together, I believe that we can do a better job of bringing just outcomes to cases.
I also believe that there are benefits to be gained by looking at crime in Norfolk analytically. The opiod crisis, the ten year high in homicides and the dramatic increase in shootings are not coincidences. Hunting for root causes, mapping where all violent crimes occur and analyzing information from the street in conjunction with the police is, at a minimum, a constant reminder that we have to do better, but it also has the potential to reveal patterns that might be able to be addressed before someone else gets hurt or killed.
Second, the relationship with the public has to be repaired. A constant problem is that witnesses will not come forward and testify about what they know. Sometimes the reason is a distrust of police or of the system in general.
The Norfolk Police Department is working hard to mend their image. The Crisis Intervention Training that eventually the entire force will receive, has made the police more aware of mental health issues that complicate street encounters.
But the police do not stand alone in having to repair the perception of government. Can we blame someone for not trusting the system to keep its word, when some of the institutions of government have not been good role models?
In Norfolk, we have seen scandals. The Treasurer was the latest to fall short. After six felony convictions, the argument was made that he should have been allowed to continue in office. This is counter to most people’s understanding of fairness. Who thinks that they would keep their job after a jury found them guilty of six felonies? I have asked that question in many civic leagues across the city, I have never seen anyone who believes they would still have a job.
This is why I fought to get the Treasurer suspended from office and finally removed from office. Justice fails when people believe that politicians get treated differently.
Norfolk has also seen a prominent citizen plead guilty to bribing officials, and there are persistent rumors about the other unnamed official who was bribed.
I have promised to fight corruption in the city. I will be the watchdog looking over politicians’ shoulders, and as you may guess, not all politicians want someone scrutinizing their actions. We must restore confidence in government.
If citizens believed that their government was good and honest, it certainly would help a potential witness’ confidence in doing the right thing.
I am not naive enough to believe that this alone will have witnesses coming forward in droves, but I do believe it is a necessary first step that we clean up our own house before we expect cooperation from those who doubt the system.
Third, we must crack down on violent offenders. Just like there should be harsh punishments for pedaling heroin when opiod related overdoses are skyrocketing, gun offenses have to be pursued relentlessly. We had a four year old and a toddler get shot in the city recently; a young woman about to graduate from high school was killed with her future unrealized. The message must be clear that this will not be tolerated. Guns cannot be the answer to every dispute. There have been enough funerals of young men and women.
I will recruit good young attorneys and excellent experienced attorneys so that the results in cases are the best that they can be. I will go to court myself as 19 years of prosecution experience should not sit on the sidelines. I believe that you want your Commonwealth’s Attorney to go into court and fight for you.
Fourth, I understand that there are other contributors to the violence. As a society, we must figure out ways to improve education for all children. We also have to get parents and children to buy into education as one of the best pathways to avoid crime. For years during every felony guilty plea in Circuit Court, the judge would ask what the highest grade in school that the defendant had completed; usually the answer was 7th or 8th grade. It was uncommon for someone to have finished high school, and it was rare for someone to have any amount of college.
In short there are other factors for the violence, and there is no silver bullet to correct the problem of violence.
However, just because a problem is difficult does not mean that we should throw up our hands and not try. My office will constantly look for every small thing that can be done to reduce violence. If we can make enough small improvements, big improvements often follow.
We cannot ever give up; every life is precious. The battle may be long, but it is worth fighting.
These are things that your Commonwealth’s Attorney can do. The Commonwealth’s Attorney does not make law. While the decriminalization of marijuana, a change to the felony larceny threshold and revamping the bond system are critical discussions for criminal justice reform, these are things that must be done by the General Assembly.
Rebuilding trust with you, working with the police to put together better cases, focusing on violent crime and stubbornly fighting against senseless killings are things that your Commonwealth’s Attorney should do, and things that I will do if elected.