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Crime appears down in many Operation Ceasefire communities

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(The Center Square) — Violent crimes decreased in 2023 in nine of the 13 cities targeted by Operation Ceasefire, a gun and gang violence prevention program spearheaded by Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares.

Miyares held a press conference with Speaker of the House Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, on Wednesday to discuss the program started in the commonwealth about a year and a half ago.

The program was first implemented in Boston to reduce gun and gang violence more than 20 years ago and has spread to other cities throughout the United States.

In Virginia, the cities of Chesapeake, Danville, Emporia, Hampton, Hopewell, Lynchburg, Martinsville, Newport News, Norfolk, Petersburg, Portsmouth, Richmond and Roanoke were selected to implement Ceasefire.

The program strives to be holistic in reducing violent crime by focusing on prevention, intervention and prosecution. To do so requires a whole host of individuals and agencies from state, local and federal government and community groups.

The attorney general named several of these groups that agencies have partnered with for prevention and intervention. Ketchmore Kids in Newport News works with children, teens, young adults and parents in high-risk communities teaching them conflict resolution, dance and parenting strategies.

Real Life Community Center in Hopewell teaches program participants how to maintain long-term sobriety, gain and keep employment, develop healthy family and community relationships, and practice personal faith.

Pastor and University of Lynchburg professor Owen Cardwell started Good Gangs in Lynchburg. Its focus is teens whom the Department of Juvenile Justice has referred. It’s a multi-layered program that includes group mentorship, relational and developmental growth, career and technical pathways and teaching on behavior and decision-making by police officers.

“That’s been a huge part of what this has been… Working with, providing grant money as part of Operation Ceasefire to these different entities that have a proven track record of investing and mentoring young people so it can be a force multiplier,” Miyares said. “I think everybody in law enforcement will tell you, they’d much rather see an individual being invested in in this regard than having to deal with them then on the other side in a courtroom.”

Nonetheless, Operation Ceasefire also relies on targeted “community policing in high-crime neighborhoods” and tough prosecution of violent and repeat offenders to make communities safer, involving federal courts when necessary.

Many municipalities don’t release their 2023 crime data until later in the spring, so it’s unclear whether the violent crime reductions seen in most Ceasefire cities are exceptional or part of a larger downward trend. However, violent offenses in 2023 – defined, in this case, as aggravated assault, murder and nonnegligent manslaughter, rape and robbery – did decline in the commonwealth as a whole by 1.5%.

Hopewell, Norfolk and Petersburg saw the most dramatic improvement in violent crime, down 33%, 26% and 17% from 2022. Most saw a decrease between 5 and 10%.

Violent crime rose in a few Ceasefire cities. In Hampton and Danville, violent crime increased by 5% and 13%, and by an alarming 48% and 40% in Emporia and Newport News.

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