Roanoke Police Chief says department is more equipped to handle gun violence going into new year

Published: Dec. 11, 2020 at 10:26 AM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Throughout 2020, gun violence has plagued the city of Roanoke, and there’s a new leader at the helm of it all.

“This is not just an uptick in Roanoke, it’s an uptick throughout our country. So it’s difficult,” said Police Chief Sam Roman.

Many people want to know where in Roanoke the violence is happening and who is causing it.

During the November meeting of the Study Committee to Reduce Gun Violence, it was revealed that those two answers are Northwest and over 60 percent is tied to gang activity.

According to the chief, gang activity is being targeted in two ways, through prevention and enforcement.

“Certainly there are individuals who are beyond the prevention piece and just willfully continue to create harm in our community and we certainly have the prosecutorial measures and the enforcement measures to deal with that.”

In his own department, there have also been changes, specifically when it comes to staffing.

There are currently over 30 positions that need to be filled. The current and upcoming police academies will hopefully fill them, but the need for officers will still exist.

”The difficulty in moving folks around is that when you move personnel from one area to another, you still have a deficit,” said Roman.

A new position was created this year though, at the recommendation of the gun violence study committee - a civilian focused on relationship building.

“And part of what Mr. Merchant will be doing is just that, looking for ways in which we can build partnerships with our community with specific emphasis when there is a crisis in the neighborhood.”

”Well when we do go out, we’ll try to approach it as you understand what they just encountered, and we’ll be able to offer them guidance such as support, encouragement and services,” said Lloyd Merchant, the department’s new RESET coordinator. Merchant’s position is being paid for through grant money.

Volunteers citizens will make up Lloyd Merchant’s team. So far he has confirmed 6 individuals.

“This is a first for me, but I’m excited about it. Good outcomes,” said Merchant.

That positivity is what chief is currently experiencing too. He says one of his successes this year, albeit its ability to be measured, is his staff.

Where he wants to improve is in the number of violent crimes, especially those involving guns.

“In terms of the upcoming year, we feel we’re better postured, and better positioned to deal with some of the violent crime we’ve been seeing,” said Roman.

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