Roanoke Gun Violence Prevention Commission narrows focus, lays foundation to set measurable goals

Published: May. 10, 2022 at 9:42 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - In a meeting Tuesday night, Roanoke’s Gun Violence Prevention Commission discussed goals and looked at data. So far this year, those numbers show an alarming trend.

In the first five months of 2022, there have been nearly twice as many gun-related assaults than in the same period last year. From January to May, 2021 saw 13 while 2022 has 21.

“It’s going to take the entire community to respond, take a role, and know that everyone is useful in curbing this violence,” explains Christopher Roberts, Youth and Gang Violence Prevention Coordinator.

The commission discussed a hyper focus on prevention, interruption, and response as they head into the summer months. They also intend to create a plan to evaluate their progress.

“We’re also very serious about what is a realistic outcome to tangibly reduce the number of homicides and aggravated assaults in our community,” begins Joe Cobb, chairman of the commission. “It’s one thing to announce that, it’s another to say this is how we’re going to measure it.”

Using blueprints from cities like Philadelphia and Chicago, the group discussed plans to organize rapid response to families dealing with loss, pinpointing the hot spots in the community for these kinds of crimes, and looking at illegal gun use in the community.

Frustration showed when discussing an incident last week when a school bus full of children was driven by a homicide scene on Hanover Avenue.

“That’s an additional trauma that these kids can’t unsee. There’s got to be some way that someone’s responsibility is that the school is contacted, and that bus does not run through there,” explained commission member Nicole Ross.

It’s a task the commission says is added to a growing number of responsibilities they have difficulty finding volunteers to fulfill.

“We’re finding it very challenging to find people, regular citizens of the community, saying ‘I want to be a part of this. How can you use me?’” said Roberts.

“You can’t fault the community for not wanting to be part of it if we’re not doing our job as a commission to make it readily available,” added Ross.

Cobb says the planning process to spread information and resources for involvement will be underway this week.

The commission also took active steps to make the community safer.

They spoke about $500,000 in grants that will be given to more than 20 organizations in the community.

Commissioners also passed a motion to authorize the city to purchase 8,000 gun locks to be made available to parents with students in the district.

“We want to be able to make sure that gun locks are available and can be distributed to every household with students in Roanoke City Public Schools,” explains Cobb.

The school district will need to take the next steps with obtaining the locks for distribution.

The next meeting is scheduled for June 14.

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