Portsmouth is going down in history as Virginia’s Gotham City thanks to Mayor Kenny Wright. For six years, Wright has put a huge indentation in the proverbial Mayor seat because he won’t get out of it long enough to create solutions.
One thing he has accomplished while being mayor is keeping Portsmouth the most dangerous city in Virginia, according to City-Data. While he may not be personally involved in the escalating crime rate, he is just as responsible because he is not putting forth a good effort to bring down those rates.
Portsmouth Crime Index
For nearly two decades, Portsmouth’s crime statistics has been on a roller coaster, but still the crime rate exceeds the U.S. Average. When Wright was elected in 2010 after James Holley was recalled, crime was well above average and stayed that way until 2012.
Citizens saw a small dip in the city’s crime rate in 2012, but not enough to make a difference. Crime may have slightly declined compared to the first year Wright was elected, however, it still was well above average. In 2013, crime went up again and slightly dropped again in 2013. The type of crimes plaguing Portsmouth the most are thefts, burglaries, rapes and murders.
Budget Cuts in Public Safety
In March 2015, Wright proposed significant budget cuts to public safety departments in a city that is severely crime-ridden. Homicides in Portsmouth were already nearly doubled in 2015 as opposed to 2014.
Additionally, his city manager, John Rowe tried to include a 17-cent real estate tax increase. Funds from the budget cuts were going to be used to decrease an $11.7 million deficit.
Former City Manager John Rowe backed the proposed budget cuts because he rationalized that Portsmouth public safety department budgets were overlooked in the past for cuts. However, Wright fired Rowe and City Attorney George Wilson weeks later, and the property tax increase proposal was lowered to 3 cents.
The budget cuts were approved in May 2015, totaling $668 million. Needless to say, these cuts negatively impacted the fire, police and sheriff departments. One million dollars was cut from the Portsmouth Sheriff’s Office and $1.6 million worth of empty city positions were frozen. Over half of those seats were in public safety. In other words, more crime, less protection.
To add insult to injury, Wright and the city council members allocated $1.2 million for employee raises that excluded firefighters and police officers. Back in 2008, police officers already were skipped over for a raise, forcing many of them to leave Portsmouth Police Department to seek higher-paying positions elsewhere in order to support their families. However, the 17-cent real estate tax increase proposal was decreased to 3 cent, which still hiked Hampton Roads highest real estate tax to “$1.30 per $100 assessed value,” according to Pilot Online.
Sad as it is, 200 citizens and 21 speakers stood before the Portsmouth City Council hoping their voices would be heard, while 30 concerned citizens stood outside City Hall protesting the gun violence in their city.
Little did they know, a $668 million bill was being passed on the same day that could’ve potentially made their crime problem worse.
Not all City Council members were on board with the budget cuts, freezing police and firefighter jobs and denying firefighters and police raises. Council members Elizabeth Psimas, Danny Meeks and Bill Moody were against it.
Vice Mayor Psimas stated. “When you take away take-home cars and you freeze positions and freeze pay, and you don’t allow overtime, you have got a double whammy of low morale, not as many officers on the street in cars … and fewer available officers to do the community policing that really helps crack down on crime.” Moody said, “Anyone who believes there isn’t a correlation in the number of police officers on the street and crime is “delusional.”
Outraged Community Over Budget Cuts
Citizens were outraged to hear about these cuts. Who could blame them? Wright was fully aware of Portsmouth high crime rates before he made those budget cuts to public safety Departments.
According to data obtained last year through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Police Department is operating with 222 of its 263 authorized positions. There are 28 frozen positions and 12 vacancies.” That means there were only 222 police officers that are suppose to protect nearly 97,000 citizens.
Cuts like these were being made during a time when Portsmouth homicide rates were higher than its three neighboring cities – Norfolk, Suffolk and Virginia Beach.
Protest Against Wright
Jacqueline Pettaway lost her son, 29-year-old Jamal Spratley who was shot in the torso by Raynard Reginald Brown, Jr. June 6, 2015 on Chicago Avenue. Pettaway and dozens of other Portsmouth residents, including Pastor Barry Randall and Monica Atkins, whose son Antonio Atkins was murdered in a drive-by shooting in December 2014, came out to protest Mayor Wright’s passive approach to the violence and crime. Residents were seeking some comfort and compassion from the Mayor.
“Maybe you have something against the news media, but sometimes, in your position, you have to step out and do what is right. Why would you want us to vote for you when you are not backing us?”
“I am angry as hell, and I want justice for our kids.”
Wright’s Press Conference
After the Mayor was blasted for his silence and negligence, Wright and other city leaders finally held a press conference to address the city’s violence. However, Wright refused to take any questions from the media. Wright said he had created a campaign called, “Violence and Crime Reversal Community Engagement Campaign,” that would reduce crime through community engagement and help get information about crimes to the police.
Interim Police Chief Dennis Mook seemed to want to shift the blame for the high crime rate to the part of the community that is seeking help by saying some insensitive remarks. Mook said, “Someone always wants to point their finger. You need to do something, you need to do something, someone does.’ It’s never ‘What can I do? What can I bring to the table.’ If we don’t have that nothing will change.”
Typically, chances are the ones who are “pointing their finger” are probably the ones in the community that are informing police and the mayor of the crimes and are still not getting results. I’m sure the ones who are committing crimes are not judging the police department for not acting enough.
Additionally, Mook doesn’t seem to see a problem with the crime rate and even tries to make excuses for it. According to Wavy.com, “He does not believe the numbers from 2015 are not ‘out of the ordinary.’ He says that crime goes in trends and waves.
Tell that to citizens who are afraid to step their foot outside their homes, or to Monica Atkins about her murdered son, Calenthia Golliday, wife of retired police officer whose son Leon “Jay” Golliday was shot to death at his home in 2011. Their loved ones killers are still at large.
Portsmouth Homicide Detectives are taking their time solving these cases. In 2015, it was discovered they had only solved nearly half of the city’s murder cases in a four-year period. Where was Wright when this information was released? He had the authority to stay on the heels of these detectives until more of these murders were solved.
Closing City Jail
Mayor Kenny Wright has also proposed closing the Portsmouth City Jail to build a new one. He wants to use the space for redevelopment and to create more taxable land in Portsmouth. However, it will take about five long years to build and it will cost about $44 to $55 million. Money that Portsmouth doesn’t have.
Why are you trying to rebuild a city before you finish lowering its high crime rates? No one will want to visit any of these newly built places for fear of being robbed, raped or becoming a cold case file piled up on the desk of a Portsmouth Homicide Detective and labeled, “I will get to it later.“
Abuse of His City Position
In January 2016, Mayor Wright was riding around Portsmouth with an expired inspection sticker he had for about six months. For some apparent reason, it wasn’t a priority for him. One would think with all the free time on his hands from not developing solutions to lower high crime, he would’ve been able to get to the DMV.
Sheriff Bill Watson and Mayor Wright were leaving City Hall after a City Council meeting in January. Watson saw that his inspection sticker had been expired since June 2015 and tried to tell Wright to get it changed. “He just totally ignored me which he does with all law enforcement,” Watson said. “I got in the car and I proceeded and I stopped him at the traffic circle. He then drove off again.” Wright ignored the Sheriff in the same manner he did the grieving families and fed up citizens that wanted answers, until the media got involved.
Watson pursued trying to pull him over, but Wright arrogantly refused to stop. He led Watson, a law enforcement officer, on a low speed chase fully aware he was behind him. Watson called for back-up. Police officers eventually were able to pull him over and he was issued a ticket for the expired inspection sticker and gained a felony charge for the chase.
The felony charge was dropped and the ticket was ignored, partly because it was turned into a civil rights violation. There was an outpouring public support from black community leaders and Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Steering Committee, who described the incident as an “abuse of power.” The expired inspection sticker and the chase immediately became irrelevant.
Seriously? It was an “abuse of power” when Wright decided to not handle his expired inspection sticker for six months because he is a city leader. Anyone who got caught by police with an expired inspection sticker would have been given a ticket. What makes him above the law?
So when does becoming the Mayor make you exempt from following the law? He wasn’t having money problems, he could have had his inspection sticker changed. No wonder he isn’t concerned with crime because he is too busy trying to find ways to beat the system himself. Wright is a city leader, he should be putting forth a better example than that. It makes you wonder what else does Wright expect to get away with.
Some believe the Sheriff had a personal vendetta against the Mayor because 13 News was anonymously contacted and followed along during the chase. Perhaps, the vendetta springs from Wright taking $1 million from the Sheriff’s department.
Watson may have called the media, however he did not make Mayor Wright keep a six-month-old expired inspection sticker on his car. He is partly to blame for his own public shame. If Wright didn’t give him reason, Watson would have never been able to make a scene. Fact is, Wright didn’t show much respect for law enforcement. In every situation it is necessary to pull over when police tell you to pull over.
Petition To Recall Wright Fails
Robert Marcus, Portsmouth citizen and business owner, organized a petition 14 months ago to recall Mayor Wright. The petition received 8,530 signatures, but only 6,012 signatures were valid. Seven thousand signatures were needed for the recall petition to even be considered.
Many of the signatures belonged to people who were not qualified to sign it, some of them were duplicated, some signers couldn’t be identified and paperwork was missing from the petition. Such a pity. If Marcus had asked for a valid identification before allowing them to sign and kept a record of the signatures to avoid duplicating, and properly prepared the paperwork, the outcome would have been different.
However, elections are only three months away (November 8). There’s still an opportunity to rescue the Mayoral seat from Wright.
One Solution To Portsmouth’s Crime Problems
Why weren’t surveillance cameras installed in high crime areas of Portsmouth? If strategically placed, they can be highly effective. According to Homeland Security News Wire, studies show a camera was placed in Humboldt Park, an urban area in Chicago and crime dropped by 20 percent and stayed down.
Surveillance cameras may be expensive, but it would have been a much better and wiser investment than building a jail and other redevelopment properties in a city that people are afraid to travel to or reside. At least it would capture criminals in the act.
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