Local leaders urge city to rethink community policing

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Rev. Allen speaks at City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 4. (Photo courtesy of the City of Virginia Beach)
Reverend James Allen, president of the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference, spoke at a Virginia Beach City Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 4. (Photo courtesy of the City of Virginia Beach)

Local leaders pushing Virginia Beach to act on race relations and policing will share their concerns with the city on Saturday, as they did at a City Council meeting Tuesday.

In light of national attention surrounding race relations and police conduct, more than 30 people packed into the City Council chambers Tuesday night to support a five-point community policing plan that would prompt city leadership to address relations between the police and African American residents in Virginia Beach.

The plan was developed by a group of leaders from the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference, the Virginia Beach NAACP and the Virginia Beach African American Leadership Forum, who met with Mayor Will Sessoms and Police Chief James Cervera in early August. This Saturday, they’ll be meeting with City Manager Dave Hansen.

The Virginia Beach Police Department did not respond to a request for comment before deadline.

The plan identifies five areas that might improve community policing in the city:

  1. Increase hiring, retention and promotion of African American police officers to reflect Virginia Beach’s demographics 
  2. Stop racial profiling in the city by improving data reporting and collection
  3. Use body cameras
  4. Use transparency in the police department
  5. Improve training and performance-review systems within the police department

At the end of the meeting, the coalition hopes for action from the city, according to Rev. James Allen, the president of the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference.

“OK, we can do this right now, these things may take extra time,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “Some things can’t be done with a phone call and we understand that.”

One thing the police department can do, he said, is track stops, not arrests, which are more indicative of profiling.

“Police have the right to look at a person and look at a profile and they can stop that person, and the thing that’s really scary to all of us is that those profiles are so general is that any person can be stopped.” 

He said the group intends to work with the city.

“We don’t want people to get the impression that we are against police or the city. We’re not,” Allen said. “But at the same time we’re not about to step back and allow things to be as they are because this is a dangerous situation.”

Another resident echoed his concerns at the City Council meeting Tuesday.

George Minns, president of the the Seatack Civic League, spoke in personal terms about racial profiling in Virginia Beach.

“I have been a victim of it, many have been a victim of it,” he said.