Newport News mayor aims to reduce gun violence and homicides by 15%. Here’s how.

Newport News mayor aims to reduce gun violence and homicides by 15%. Here’s how.

March 5, 2024

Newport News saw an uptick in killings last year, but Mayor Phillip Jones announced on Tuesday night plans to reduce gun violence and homicides by 15% over the next 18 months.

The safety initiative includes the city establishing the Newport News Office of Community Safety to meet its goal.

“We envision that this office will be led by a strategic thinker with action-oriented credentials,” Jones said. “This person will be a community champion and build the necessary team of city staff, volunteers, and advocates to advise the city manager and council on best practices to reduce gun violence.”

Jones made the announcement during a State of the City address held at the Freeman Center Field House on the campus of Christopher Newport University.

Newport News police reported 45 homicides in 2023 — up from 31 slain in 2022, and a higher total than in any year in at least five decades. During his address, Jones brought up the “unthinkable” incident that occurred last year at Richneck Elementary School, in which the city was thrust into the national spotlight after a 6-year-old shot and wounded a teacher.

“Parents, children, teachers, faculty, and residents were understandably frightened,” Jones said. “How does a community recover? How can you come back from a school shooting?”

He said it was imperative that the city “build forward.”

In January, Jones visited the White House with City Manager Alan Archer and Police Chief Steve Drew to meet with the newly established White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention to share best practices.

Jones pledged to tackle the issue of gun violence “head-on.”

“My goal is that we are going to reduce gun violence, primarily homicides, by 15% over the next 18 months,” Jones said. “And we have the plans to do it.”

Jones told news outlets that positions for the Newport News Office of Community Safety will be part of the city’s upcoming budget, although it is not yet known how many people will be hired.

“I will make sure that they have the agency to get things done,” Jones told the Daily Press after his address. “I promise that we’re going to reduce gun violence in Newport News, and I’m going to put the resources and dollars behind it.”

During his address, Jones said the city will explore creating a hospital-based violence intervention program — a national model that is based on hospitals and communities working together to reduce violence. Jones said the city will create a program that meets the immediate medical needs of the community while addressing underlying issues and connecting citizens to an array of resources and case management services.

He also said the city is hiring a violence prevention manager to develop initiatives that prevent youth and young adult violence and promote community resilience and healing.

He noted the city recently announced a partnership with Super Bowl Champion Antoine Bethea to establish the SafeHaven Empowerment Community Center. Jones said youth will have access to technology and computer labs, an e-gaming room, indoor swimming pool, and on-site mental health services through the center.

Jones said he is committed to ensuring the city’s students have the resources they need to thrive.

“Unfortunately, in many of [the] meetings I have attended with young people, they often tell me that mental health is a grave concern,” Jones said.

He said the city has taken measures to grow its Community Assistance Response, or CARE, program for those experiencing a mental health crisis. CARE provides crisis intervention services.

Jones said in 2023, the CARE team was dispatched to over 600 calls. At the end of January, he said the team had already responded to over 75 calls in 2024.

“This staggering number shows how essential CARE is to residents in crisis,” Jones said.

Jones concluded his speech by mentioning the importance of letting the city’s children know they can count on their leaders and ensuring that the city is the best it can be — both for today and for future generations.

“Tonight is not about me,” Jones said. Instead, “It’s about how all of us can move forward together.”

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