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State leaders have different ideas on how to stop violence in Virginia

Posted at 7:42 AM, Jun 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-08 14:19:27-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia recorded its highest murder rate in two decades in 2021.

Richmond experienced more murders, 90, than it has in the last 15 years.

While many state leaders agree Virginia must lower its violent crime rate, how to do that is often where Republican and Democratic leaders differ.

“We have a crisis in Virginia right now," Governor Glenn Youngkin (R - Virginia) said. "We've got to go to work right now. We are absolutely going to make Virginia safe again.”

The governor recently launched a violent crime task force, which will work with Attorney General Jason Miyares' office.

The task force will travel the state engaging with community and law enforcement leaders, as well as Virginia State Police who will have federal resources to create a plan to get the murder rate down.

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"This is going to be a tough, tough job in front of us because we have seen such an escalation," Youngkin said. "And we've got to change this."

The other part of the governor's plan to reduce crime was increasing police pay.

"We have seen law enforcement not funded the way we need to fund it," said Youngkin.

Attorney General Jason Miyares (R - Virginia) supports the governor and said he believed one of the most important ways to lower gun violence was to have a larger police presence.

Once the state recruits more officers, Miyares said police can get back to community policing, which he called a key to reducing crime.

“One of the most effective things you can do is have officers that are embedded in their community, or the citizens there know the officers and feel comfortable with the officers, and most importantly, feel comfortable sharing intelligence with the officers of what they're seeing and what they're hearing," said Miyares. "They oftentimes know the individuals perhaps in their area that are victimizing innocent Virginians."

As the state’s top prosecutor, Miyares also wanted to use his power to get violent repeat offenders off the streets.

"That's the quickest way to lower gun violence and make the community feel safer," Miyares said.

Before he took office, Miyares told CBS 6 he supported bringing back parts of Project Exile, which sentenced those convicted of using an illegal firearm out of state for a minimum five years in prison.

CBS 6 reporter Caroline Coleburn asked Miyares how he felt about Project Exile now that he was in office.

"We're going to be tinkering with it some," Miyares said. "Project Ceasefire is what we're pushing for, but it's a similar concept."

Project Ceasefire targets group violence intervention and creates a fund, which would be managed by Miyares’ office, to invest in crime reduction strategies, training, and equipment for police and other organizations.

"You go after those repeat offenders, those that are part of organized crime as well, and you go after them, you target them," he said.

"We cannot arrest our way out of gun violence"

Not every state leader believes hiring more police officers and focusing on group violence are the ultimate solutions to reducing violent crime.

"We cannot arrest our way out of gun violence," State Senator Jennifer McClellan (D - Richmond) said. "We have to address the root causes of it and do that in a holistic way. The House Republicans really want to focus on group violence, but not every reason for gun violence is the same."

McClellan and some state Democrats believe that investing more time, money, and resources in improving mental health services and reducing domestic violence would be an effective solution to the violent crime problem.

"We're putting too much on police that we should leave to other professionals," McClellan said. "We rely on the police to be the first responders for mental health. That should be people who are trained to be counselors and mentors, and let police respond to crime.”

McClellan's plan for reducing gun violence is creating Virginia’s first Center for Firearm Violence Prevention and Intervention.

"That would bring a holistic view at the state, local, and community levels to really support those community organizations that are working to address crime in their areas," McClellan said.

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The center would be housed in the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) and would be the state’s primary resource for research, best practices, and strategies for implementing firearm violence intervention and prevention programs.

"If we are not addressing the causes, we will never end the violence," she said.

When asked about McClellan's Center for Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention plan, Governor Youngkin questioned its focus.

"This is about criminals," Youngkin said. "We are seeing gang violence go up, drug trafficking go up, human trafficking go up. And of course, this is a result of a soft on crime approach for so many years."

Just last week, the Virginia General Assembly approved a budget that included $2.5 million to support a new Operation Ceasefire grant program and $4 million per year for grants to community-based organizations through the Virginia Firearm Violence and Prevention Fund.

State lawmakers did not approve funding to create McClellan's Center for Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention.

Despite their differences, state leaders have made it clear they want Virginians to feel comfortable traveling to Richmond, Petersburg, and every other city without worrying about potentially becoming a victim of violence.

"They shouldn't be looking over their shoulder in fear," Miyares said. "Our job is to make sure that's not happening."

CBS 6 Crime 360 coverage explores the problems and possible solutions to crime in Central Virginia. You'll hear diverse perspectives from everyone involved in this crisis, including survivors, families, doctors, former inmates, police, preachers, and lawmakers.

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