PETERSBURG, Va. -- Several pastors joined a roundtable in Petersburg on Monday night, saying the city needs a strategy and plan to stop the recent outbreak of shootings and killings.
Petersburg Police Chief Travis Christian issued a statement saying he knows some are against "over-policing," but that his department will over-police if it means saving lives.
There have been seven homicides in 2022 and more than 70 aggravated assaults involving weapons, mostly guns. 88 illegal guns have been taken off the streets. Altogether, those numbers make for troubling statistics for a small city of 30,000 people.
"Urban cities, in particular, are pulling resources from the state to help,” said Christian. “We feel fortunate. We spoke and the governor listened. He came down and pledged to dedicate all available resources to this city. So we are grateful for that."
Some citizens have expressed concern, saying they’re worried about putting a large number of officers in one concentrated area.
"I’ve heard people aren't satisfied with that,” said Christian. “Some feel like that's over-policing. Well, we will over-police to keep our city safe."
In order to get to the root of the problem, two pastors suggested taking things out of the sanctuary and into the streets with hopes of having conversations with criminals, even the ones packing who are packing heat.
"We need to have real relationships and real conversations with people regardless of what guns they have,” said Pastor Jamison McLaughlin. “I mean, look, I know this guy has a nine millimeter or an AR-15 but I can still say, ‘Hey man, I love you and we want to make things better for our community.’"
"Some of us can communicate with these guys and bring them into an atmosphere where we serve almost as the mediator between them and what the city wants," said Pastor Darren Gay.
With summer fast approaching, the city of Petersburg is pledging jobs and internships for teens, some paying $12 an hour to keep them off the streets.
Organizations like Parks and Rec and the Boys and Girls Club are offering sun-up to sun-down activities as well.
Those at Monday’s meeting were searching for a solution to the violence. Chief Christian says ending gun violence is a process that will take patience.
"Most people are looking through the blinds and not calling,” said Christian. “We have to be aware of what's happening and communicate with each other. It's gonna take a while. We realize in today's climate that it's difficult for young people period to really trust the police."