Gun Violence in Roanoke: WDBJ7 Questions Roanoke City Mayor

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) - For the last month, WDBJ7 has been taking your questions and concerns about violence in Roanoke City to local leaders. That includes Mayor Sherman Lea.

WDBJ7 photo

Last week, Lea delivered his State of the City address, expressing satisfaction in seeing Roanoke's economic progress.

But Lea knows Roanoke faces challenges, including gun violence.

"But our society has changed; drugs have become more readily available. People make irrational decisions," he said. "You don't have to look around locally and see some things that are happening in other communities. And it's a challenge in urban cities."

Statistics we requested from Roanoke City Police show, on average, police recorded about six gun-related homicides a year over the last decade.

Lea believes the newly-formed gun violence task force, championed and led by City Council, will address ways to reduce violence and improve relationships with police.

Lea said he was confident change could be made, comparing this task force to the one created in 2005 to address domestic violence in the city.

Lea also said he know criminal activity from the city's gangs are also contributing to the problem, not to mention the factors that drive people to join gangs.

"Yeah, we got gangs," Lea said. "And we've got to continue to try to root them out as best we can."

The task force includes input from Police Chief Tim Jones, who recently announced his retirement.

"I was shocked that he decided to do that," Lea said.

Lea said Jones' tenure wasn't without controversy, but as a whole, believes he's served the city well.

"And there is some statements that he made which I told him publicly probably could have been stated a little differently, but I know this. He has a good heart; he has a heart that's committed to making people safe in this community."

Lea said in the nationwide search for Jones' replacement, he'd like to find someone who is engaged with the community, visible and innovative. He said it's also important to him that the community help provide input in their search for the best candidate.

In our conversations with Jones, he told us his agency is working to the max and they need more detectives.

Mayor Lea says he's always in favor of more police, but adding officers is not always financially viable.

"Right now we're not in a position to pay for that. But we've got to make a decision on council in terms of our priorities and what we need to do."

Overall, Mayor Lea's message was one of cooperation and goodwill.

"We are working together," he said. "And we all want our streets and communities to be safe."

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