Tim Heaphy, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, and Associate Attorney General, Thomas Perrelli held an anti-violence forum in early June. Following the press conference, Chief Chris Perkins gave the Star-Sentinel a local perspective on various Roanoke City crime topics:
Domestic Violence: Domestic aggravated assaults increased 46 percent in 2010. Council Member Sherman Lea and Deputy Chief Tim Jones have put together Public Service Announcements to educate the public and help combat the increase.
From Perkins’ perspective he sees that people involved in domestic violence situations are intimidated by the police. Private service providers like Sabrina’s Place work better in those situations. “We will put out information about their services through our domestic violence coordinator and our sexual violence Hispanic coordinator,” said Perkins.
Even though high profile cases have been in the news recently, domestic assaults are down slightly in 2011. “I’m hoping we can maintain that,” said Perkins. The recent high profile cases like the sheriff deputy in Franklin County illustrates how tragically these instances can end.
Perkins is pleased with how the agencies are doing more with less funding like Sabrina’s Place and the Women’s Resource Center.
Gang Violence: Networking is the most important aspect. The Virginia Gang Investigator Association (VGIA) provides training and holds conferences. Several Roanoke detectives and officers are members. “The reason this is so important is I can see what’s going on in Roanoke but at these conferences they can learn what trends are popping up in Tidewater and Richmond,” said Perkins.
Through VGIA they are able to compare trends and share what is working best. “It’s like a big think tank,” said Perkins.
The Virginia Criminal Information Network maintains a database of known gang members. The majority of gang members are between the age of 17 and 24. Kids as young as 10 are susceptible to “mimicking what they see.” A brother or sister who are gang members can influence younger siblings.
This is where the school system, The West End Center and TAP’s Head Start intervene. Perkins praised Straight Street and emphasized what an important roll churches play in intervention. It takes the whole community working together. “Once people understand that and stop putting on blinders – we will be a better community,” said Perkins.
Police Perception: Perkins gets frustrated at the police being expected to solve every problem. He said he has even made some people mad by asking them, “What have you done about it?”
People think the police are “knights in shining armor … but we make mistakes,” said Perkins. He doesn’t hide the mistakes but also touts the wins.
“I could ruin your day if I stop you for running a stop sign … and you can hate us … but we are the ‘necessary evil’ for social control,” said Perkins.
Department Staffing: The department has a turnover rate of about ten officers a year. Right now Perkins has many officers retiring. They can retire with full pension and pick up good paying jobs outside the department where it is less stressful and they are appreciated.
With seven conditional hires coming on board the department is down four people. Perkins said he has a federal grant to fund five so he feels they are in good shape.
Explaining the turnover Perkins said, “Sometimes they get into law enforcement and don’t like it, a better opportunity comes along … and we also lose a lot to state and federal jobs.”
It costs about $24,000 to train one recruit at the 27-week academy. With another 12 weeks of field training and a year probation it totals about $80,000 for one recruit to become totally functional.
Before making the investment recruits go through rigorous evaluations. Even with that, “It’s a difference from a classroom setting to a true street setting and a live call,” said Perkins. “You have no comprehension until you are there at that moment how you are going to handle that situation.”
Community Outreach Coordinator: Gwen Mason, former Roanoke City Council member, was tapped for Community Outreach Coordinator last year by U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy. Perkins says she brings everyone together.
There are resources Perkins says he didn’t know existed before Mason took on the roll. “It is invaluable to have a central person with connections to bring people together,” he said. Perkins talks with her several times a week.
“Cooperation and collaboration is the absolute key to a good safe community,” he said. “If we don’t improve our social capital … the networks that bind us – we’re going to fail.”