NORFOLK, Va. — Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin unveiled a new plan Monday, called "Operation Bold Blue Line", aimed to reduce violent crime in Virginia at an event in Norfolk.
"Over the last several years, too many of our fellow Virginians have fallen victim to violent crime. Across Virginia people wake up and turn on their television or grab their newspaper or grab their iPhone every day and they hear horrific stories," said Youngkin, who said fatal shootings increased 39% in the first seven months of 2022 compared with the same time period in 2019. "Story after story of violence in their hometown — homicides, shootings and aggravated assaults."
Youngkin said the plan was a result of the roundtable meetings held by the Violent Crimes Taskforce that he created earlier this year. Youngkin said while the solution to violent crime had to be tailored to each community, they had three major takeaways: a need for more programs to offer alternative paths for at-risk youths, needing prosecutors to keep violent offenders in custody, and a need for more staffing.
"It's often said that our law enforcement heroes represent a thin blue line," said Youngkin. "With nearly 40% law enforcement vacancy rates in some cities, with too few prosecutors actually prosecuting, with diminished community engagement, and witnesses and victims less willing to come forward that thin blue line is getting far too thin and therefore today I am announcing 'Operation Bold Blue Line'".
Youngkin said his plan contains five key strategies, a combination of directives he will give to his administrative staff and legislative goals he has for the upcoming budget cycle and General Assembly session.
Youngkin said he wants to address wage compression that exists in law enforcement, launch a nationwide recruiting effort to attract officers from other states and develop homegrown officers, and accelerate the disbursement of $75-million already earmarked for training and equipment for law enforcement.
"Step four, we will hire more prosecutors that are willing and able to put violent offenders behind bars and keep them there," said Youngkin. "And step five we will increase our support for victims and witnesses to violent crime and invest in community partnerships that can help prevent violent crime in the first place."
The additional prosecutors will be a part of Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares' Operation Ceasefire, which he said is launching in 12 cities, including Richmond and Petersburg.
Youngkin also highlighted the partnership announced earlier this year between the state and Petersburg. Their mayor said he applauds Monday's announcement and says since their partnership began, violent crime has dropped by 10%.
"We're partnering together to improve our communities because people are tired of the violence, they're tired of not having a peaceful community to live in. And with Bold Blue Line, what we're seeing today as the governor's long-term commitment for localities like Petersburg to be able to recruit more police and keep our communities safe," Petersburg Mayor Sam Parham said.
Youngkin said he will also work with the General Assembly to get more money for localities that have community policing or violence reduction programs, but it would include provisions to prohibit partnering localities from defunding their police departments.
"The ones that are hesitant, we will let continue to focus on what they want to focus on and the ones that are willing to address with proven processes that will work, in order to recruit law enforcement we're going to jump right in. It doesn't mean that we can't come back later and partner with other communities, but these first 12 to 14 that we're working with are ones that have already said 'We're on board,'," said Youngkin.
A spokesperson for the the Democratic Party of Virginia released a statement following Youngkin's announcement.
"What the Governor fails to mention in his public safety plan is the number one reason for rising violent crime – guns. If the Governor is serious about curbing violent crime, then he would focus his efforts on getting guns off the streets," said Gianni Snidle. "Democrats have always been committed to public safety and supporting our local police departments. That’s why Virginia Democrats fought hard this past session to ensure that crucial gun safety measures remain in place and that people who commit violent crimes cannot access firearms and that our police departments are fully funded. All the while, Governor Youngkin and Republicans worked tirelessly to roll back several life-saving measures that would endanger our communities."