Hopewell grapples with violence, city hall dysfunction: 'There's chaos going on'

Hopewell grapples with violence, city hall dysfunction: 'There's chaos going on'
Posted at 7:02 PM, Jun 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-28 19:02:21-04

HOPEWELL, Va. -- As Hopewell law enforcement investigates a string of violence including two double homicides, political turmoil has festered among city leaders leading one council member to describe the state of the city as "chaotic."

"Hopewell needs help, Hopewell needs help," said long-time resident Kim Bear.

Bear was born and raised in Hopewell and has called the Tri-Cities community home her whole life, but she said rising crime and dysfunction in city hall have diminished her optimism.

“I want to move. I want to put a for sale sign in my yard and get out of here as soon as possible," Bear said.

Between Friday night and Tuesday morning, three shootings in Hopewell left seven people shot and four dead.

  • Friday night on Elm Street and Arlington Road: four teens shot, two died
  • Sunday morning on S. 15th Avenue: man shot and will survive
  • Tuesday morning on S. 13th Avenue and Buren Street: man and woman shot and killed

“I am scared for the safety of my grandchildren playing outside," Bear said. "My grandkids, the other day, were walking around the block, and the very next day, right up the road, there was a shooting. Somebody was riding by with a mask on shooting out the window."

Bear called for additional police presence in the aftermath of the violence.

"Police should be monitoring the neighborhoods and the areas where it happens and be more strict when people do get caught," she said.

Police Chief AJ Starke, who recently became full-time chief on June 17, said the uptick in violent crime was "frustrating," "concerning," and admitted it added a lot to his plate during the first two weeks on the job.

“This is not Hopewell. We're better than this. We can do better, we will do better," Stake said.

Starke said suspect and motive information was limited in recent shooting investigations, however, he does not believe the incidents are connected.

"It seems that these incidents are isolated. These are not random. These are attacks on people. We don't know what they're involved in, but it's unacceptable," Starke said.

CBS 6 asked Starke if he knew what was causing the violence and if there was any indication of gang-related or drug-related motives.

“Right now, we just don’t know what’s causing it," he responded. "We see young people that are involved. We hear talk of gangs, we hear different ideologies that there are gangs involved, but we just don't know at this point."

Starke said people out there know something about the shootings and asked for them to come forward, emphasizing the police department relies on the community for help.

"Let's bring these people to justice. Let's put them in jail where they belong," he said.

Violence isn't the only crisis facing Hopewell, but also political turmoil with the resignation of the city manager, March Altman.

Altman, the leader appointed by the council to carry out executive duties for the city, announced Monday night he would be leaving office in August.

One council member, Debbie Randolph, described his resignation as unsurprising but unfortunate.

“I think that there’s a little bit of chaos going on," Randolph said. "What he's been through with some on council took him to a place where he felt he was no longer comfortable and in a safe work environment."

Randolph said the political climate was "toxic" and "sickened" her. She believes it's part of the reason city hall has several other vacancies including an assistant city manager, human resources director, code director, and parks and recreation director.

"Indecisiveness by the council on residency status has been long plaguing us as to whether our employees should live in the city or not. We couldn't make a decision earlier this year, and we really needed to," Randolph said. "Then we had some great staff that left us because they went to bigger and larger counties, and we can't pay as much."

Randolph explained most of the council is now confident in Chief Stark's leadership of the police department.

"We have full faith in him. He has shown that he wants to be here. He wants to be connected to the community. I hope at some point he might want to actually live in Hopewell and be a part of the community 100%," she said.

Bear said she has also noticed an inefficiency in the city government as a resident.

“I just don't think they care enough," Bear said. "I'm trying to be more active in Hopewell and go to the city council meetings and stuff like that, but it does nothing. It's useless."

She said she's hoping for change so that leadership can tackle pressing issues including crime.

“Do something," she said. "Do something about this.”



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