Norfolk is a city of neighborhoods, neighborhoods solid with families who know one another and appreciate each other. They know their street’s children, what dog goes with each home, and even when a neighbor is likely to be at work, at home or on vacation.
They also know when something is not quite right – an unfamiliar car driving slowly down the street, a stranger slipping into another neighbor’s backyard, an unknown person peering into the parked car of the family next door.
Norfolk’s neighborhoods care about their neighbors’ safety from crime, and they, like me, look to the city to field the best trained, experienced, and supported Police Department in South Hampton Roads. One of my top priorities as a City Council candidate in Super Ward 6 in the May 3 election is to correct the current deficiency in police salaries and number of officers, therefore ensuring that Norfolk does not lose seasoned officers to other cities with more competitive police salaries.
But as a former Norfolk Crime Line President, a Norfolk native and proponent of the Project Blue Light, I also know that our neighborhoods can and want to help improve safety and crime prevention where their residents live.
That’s why I’m proposing that the city establish a Norfolk Safe Neighborhoods Commission devoted to advocating and promoting safer neighborhoods via education, awareness raising and partnerships with groups that also want to see crime reduced and neighborhood crimes solved.
The commission can be the catalyst for encouraging residents to share, neighbor-to-neighbor, tips and alerts about neighborhood crime incidents such as vandalism, burglary and car break-ins. This sharing can take various forms.
In Suburban Acres, for example, neighbors are using the Nextdoor social media network to share sightings of suspected car burglars, as well as advice from Police Department Community Resource Officers on how to reduce opportunities for would-be thieves.
In Bayview, residents maintain a Bayview Neighborhood Crime Watch group on Facebook. By last fall, nearly 450 residents had joined, sharing posts on criminal activity.
Creating a Safe Neighborhoods Commission dovetails with what others are calling for in Norfolk. Earlier this year, a group of Norfolk pastors openly urged residents not to withhold information about crimes they know about. “We don’t have a right to remain silent,” The Virginian-Pilot quoted the Rev. Steve Lewis of Mount Hermon Baptist Church as saying. The newspaper reported that some pastors planned to install boxes at Norfolk churches where people could leave tips anonymously about crimes.
Our police know they need neighborhoods’ help to solve and reduce crime. Chief Michael Goldsmith pledged at a fall news conference that officers were doing their best to solve crime, including murders. “Now it’s time for the 245,000 people living in this city to do theirs. We need your help,” he said in the Pilot.
As a candidate in May’s council election, I am urging a renewed city emphasis on “nurturing our neighborhoods” after years of focus on the Downtown. As I’ve talked with residents, I’ve heard their repeated concern about the slide backward in safety. A Norfolk Safe Neighborhoods Commission will give them the thumbs-up they’re waiting for to be a bigger part of keeping our entire city safe.
Warren A. Stewart, Ed.D.
For more on this candidate, here is his website.