Agencies discuss ways to improve public safety
By Ashley McLeod, Staff Writer
Apr 15, 2014, 13:24
ASHLEY MCLEOD/HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Hopewell Police Chief John Keohane speaks during a meeting at Union Station in Petersburg.
PETERSBURG — Attorney General Mark Herring met with leaders from the Tri-City area recently to discuss the public safety issues affecting the area.
Representatives from Colonial Heights, Hopewell, Prince George, Dinwiddie, and Petersburg attended the meeting at the Petersburg Union Train Station on March 27. The meeting was the 15th in a two-week, 22 stop public safety tour across the state.
Herring said the purpose of the tour was to better understand the challenges Virginia law enforcement were facing, in order to try and make improvements during his time as attorney general.
“I wanted to hear directly from those who are involved in the front lines of law enforcement, what challenges they’re facing in their areas,” said Herring. “I want to make sure they are in sync with the right priorities and try and find ways to help the local communities around the state make sure our offices are running are efficiently and effectively as they can be.”
The open forum brought commonwealth’s attorneys, police chiefs, sheriffs and other law enforcement officials together to talk about what specific issues are most important in the area.
Hopewell Police Chief John Keohane spoke to Herring about the problem of gang activity in the Tri-City area. Keohane discussed several ways the area is trying to improve this, including providing anti-gang education and gang awareness training in the school systems as well as for adults.
Other topics discussed during the forum included mental health issues, nuisance laws, and the use and sale of spice in the area.
“They see it as no big deal. It’s just sitting right on the shelf in the gas station, so it doesn’t seem illegal,” said Colonial Heights Commonwealth’s Attorney William B. Bray.
Attorney General Mark Herring speaks as Petersburg Sheriff Vanessa Crawford listens.
The sale of spice has become an ongoing problem in the area due to the constantly changing chemicals used in the product.
“Every time the law changes to include a certain chemical compound, they just change the compound,” said Keohane.
The themes of the Petersburg forum were not very different from other localities in Virginia. Herring said there was one topic that was consistent across the state.
”Mental health has been a consistent topic of discussion at all of the meetings. I think that there is a real good understanding on how public safety involves more than just arresting people and putting them in jail,” said Herring.
Herring also commented on how important it was for jurisdictions to work together in preventing crime and protecting public safety.
“Criminal activity doesn’t know a jurisdictional boundary, so it’s important that the jurisdictions work together, and from what I’ve seen, they are,” said Herring.
Following the tour, Herring will consult with a panel in order to decide how the staff in his office can be better utilized to help Virginia excel.
“I want to make sure they are in sync with the right priorities and try and find ways to help the local communities around the state,” said Herring.