Friday, February 3, 2023

Here’s what residents and nonprofits think about the community walks in Newport News

Last year, the Newport News Police Department started organizing a series of community walks after homicides.

“Today is a joint effort between the police department and the faith leaders of our city to begin to establish a system of care and compassion through citizen engagement and prayer,” Police Chief Steve Drew said in a news release from Nov. 8, 2018.

The community walks — now known as Community Awareness, Reconnection & Education walks — usually occur within hours of a homicide and involve police officers, community organization and faith leaders walking around the neighborhood.

Police spokesman Brandon Maynard said the CARE walks happen after a traumatic event like a homicide. Maynard noted the CARE walks are different than community walks.

“Well, sometimes we’ve had community walks just to have them,” he said, adding the most recent one was several months ago in the north district.

Police officers generally walk the neighborhood knocking on doors and talking with residents to see if they have any concerns.

WYDaily asked Maynard if the police department would consider having CARE walks or community walks outside of their affiliation with traumatic events.

Maynard said it’s “up to the chief or each precinct commander” if they want to have a walk.

“We don’t have any of those upcoming,” Maynard said for the community walks.

When asked if there would be CARE walks in general outside of a homicide investigation, Maynard said no.

“We typically stick to the CARE walks after a traumatic event,” Maynard said.

But how many residents and nonprofit organizations are aware these CARE walks happen after a homicide?

Community organizations

Kevin Otey, chief operating officer at the Hampton Roads Community Action Plan, a local nonprofit based in Newport News, said their organization is one of the leading agencies in one of the community walks.

“It’s helping us to share resources available to help residents,” Otey said, adding the group hosted a wellness clinic in Ridley Apartments providing health screenings and blood pressure checks.

One of the nonprofit’s team members, Yugonda Sample-Jones, lost her nephew to gun violence, Otey said. The funeral was Aug. 12.

Otey still thinks the community walks are helping the community.

“I think it’s showing we’re having good progress,” Otey said. “I think we need more nonprofits and grassroots organizations and support the police department outside of 9 to 5.”

Boone Clayton, associate pastor at Denbigh United Presbyterian Church, said he is familiar with the walks but has never attended one.

“We went to the one of the first meetings last year,” Clayton said. “I have not been able to go to these walks.”

“I think –– at least in theory–– it’s a wonderful idea,” he said, adding it creates relationships and dialogue. “I certainly applaud their attempts at being positive and inclusive.”

“From my standpoint, they exists less to decrease crime but more to foster relationships in the community,” he said.

When asked if he felt the community walks were helping decrease crime in the area, Clayton said he was not sure the community walks have been around long enough to make an assessment.

Both Lynne Finding, executive director of LINK of Hampton Roads and Angela York, executive director of Thrive Peninsula, had never heard of the community walks.

“I hadn’t heard of it until I looked it up,” York said, adding she was aware of a new organization of mothers who lost their children to gun violence known as “Peninsula Families Uniting Together.”

Cottage Grove Apartments

Charmel Gooch was visiting her mother at Cottage Grove Apartments on Aug. 17, when police officers were looking for a homicide suspect.

RELATED STORY: Newport News Police chief: The officer and his ride-along were shot in an ‘ambush-style’ situation

“I heard a loud knock –– I though it was the a washer and dryer,” Gooch said of the shooting, adding a detective knocked on the door to let her know about the shooting.

“I didn’t even know it was that close,” Gooch said. “I just wish all the crime would stop everywhere.”

When a shooting happened at her apartment complex at Heritage Forest Apartments off Marshall Avenue, her landlord didn’t send out a memo to residents about the incident.

Gooch, who has never heard of community walks, suggests police officers should come together and walk the neighborhood more often.

“I don’t even see the policeman out walking the grounds,” Gooch said. “You would feel a little safe if the police were doing that beforehand.”

Victor Eley, a barber who lives in Cottage Grove, was hesitant at first to speak about the community walks and whether or not they helped reduce crime in the neighborhood.

“I guess they do help in a sense, then again there’s always going to be something going on,” he said, adding he has lived at the apartment complex for two years.

Eley is in the process of moving and said at least three shootings have happened close to his home.

“It’s just unsafe,” Eley said. “It’s a lot, it really is.”

Eley told a WYDaily reporter to be careful walking the neighborhood. It was the early afternoon on a sunny weekday around 2 p.m.

Some residents did not answer the door even though a WYDaily reporter observed there were cars in the driveway and either music or a TV blaring from inside the units.

Waverton Ashton Green Apartments

At Waverton Ashton Green apartments by Gate 2 of Fort Eustis, the neighborhood was also quiet and the parking lot quite full.

Qualawna Branch, moved to the apartment complex a few months ago from Yorktown. She feels the neighborhood is generally safe.

“I see them sometimes,” Branch said of the police officers.

When asked if she thought the community walks were helping, she said yes.

“It was a surprise it happened at all because it was quiet when I first got here,” Branch said. “It’s not as bad–– if you go further like on Jefferson.”

Another resident, Cornelius Glover, works as a store manager for Taco Bell and has lived at Waverton for two years. He has heard about one of the community walks but he did not attend.

Right after the shooting, Glover said there more police activity and more security in the neighborhood but it’s died down since then.

“Because you’re at work all the time, you don’t really see them,” he said of the police officers.

Glover, who has three kids, is concerned about the crime and has even talked about moving.

“I don’t know,” Glover said about crime. “I guess its just sporadic and heartbreaking.”

JeMarco Embry and his girlfriend, Melanie Martinez, moved to Waverton about six months ago. Neither one has heard about the community walks.

“The most that they do is a flyer to have a town hall,” Martinez said.

Embry said he has only seen a police officer walk down the sidewalks one or two times, adding usually at the night, the officers drive through the neighborhood.

After the April 16 shooting, police officers knocked on doors asking for information from residents about what happened, Embry said.

“It’s not that bad, but it’s still bad,” Embry said.

“It could be better,” Martinez added.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Some of the interviews and context for this story were done before the shootings on Sept. 16 and Sept. 17.

Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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