Virginia Beach leaders press for action on community policing plan

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - A group of city ministers and group leaders are pressing city leadership to act on a 5 Point Community Policing Plan.

Representatives from the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference, the Virginia Beach NAACP, and the Virginia Beach African American Leadership forum came up with the plan after attending a meeting on August 8 with Mayor William Sessoms and Chief of Police James Cervera. The meeting was to discuss community and police relations.

On August 31, the representatives say they presented the 5 Point plan to Councilwoman Rosemary Wilson and Chief Cervera at the Governor's Forum on Community Policing. Copies were also given to Mayor Sessoms, each council person, and the city's senior staffers.

In light of the national attention around community policing and the number of police shootings of black men, the representatives feel the city should act on the plan immediately.

They tell News 3 they feel that over 30 days for city leadership to respond to the plan is too long and suggests the city is not embracing the seriousness of improving community policing for all citizens.

"We're one incident away from looking like Charlotte," says Gary McCollum, treasurer of the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference. "In light of what's going on around the country, we don't think that makes sense."

According to the group, the five areas that would improve community policing in Virginia Beach are:
1.      Increase the hiring, retention and promotion of African American police officers to reflect the demographics of Virginia Beach which is currently over 20% African American.
2.      Eliminate racial profiling in Virginia Beach by improving reporting and data collection to create and foster a more transparent relationship with African American communities within the city.
3.      Institutionalize the use of body cameras in the VBPD
4.      Replace the VB Police Department’s culture or “Code of Blue Silence” with a culture of transparency.
5.      Improve the training and performance review systems within the Virginia Beach Police Department to improve officer conduct in the community and cement a transparent culture within the department.
The plan also provides 23 specific action steps they believe the city needs to take in order to improve community policing.

The leaders have a scheduled meeting with Chief Cervera and Mayor Sessoms on Saturday, where representatives say they hope they can start to put the plan in action.

Chief Cervera tells News 3 that some of their plans are likely already apart of their policy, and others may have legal issues. However, he says he is looking forward to the meeting and seeing how they can work together on certain ideas.

"I think everyone is going to be pleasantly surprised on where we are with a lot of the issues and how we can move forward."