Roanoke remains free of violent protests

Why police, city leaders say the city stays calm, civil

ROANOKE, Va. – Rallies are taking place in cities across the nation as a reaction to the events nine days ago in Charlottesville, but there hasn't been that level of unrest in the Roanoke Valley.

Roanoke Police Department Capt. Rick Morrison says police officers appreciate the peace.

"We have a good track record, a good history of when we do have such events, that they're very peaceful," he said.

He said it helps that people coming in from out of town to instigate violence haven't come to the Star City.

"When we as citizens of Roanoke come together, collectively, to voice our concerns and opinions, we do it in the right fashion," he said.

Council members to whom we spoke, like John Garland, say people in Roanoke want peace.

"In Roanoke, that I've seen, they know that there are other ways to handle things and they're going to handle things in a peaceful way," he said.

History can help. Roanoke was incorporated after the Civil War. There are no statues of Confederate generals here. Noel C. Taylor was a calming influence during the unrest in the 1960s, and later as mayor.

Part of the planning process police go through involves trying to figure out who is going to attend these events and what their intentions are. Morrison said criticism of police often focuses on how they respond but the open dialogue with groups needs to happen beforehand.

"The relationship between the police and the community. I think that is most often overlooked," he said.

Both organizers and police officers can vet participants.

"A lot of times, and even in the small-scale events that Roanoke has had in the past, a lot of the information that we received came from the community," he said.

He said partnerships with other law enforcement departments, fire departments, emergency medical services and public works staff are important.

"We're always planning. We're always looking at, 'Could we do something better? Is there new information that we didn't see at the last event?'" he said.

He said police officers face tough choices during chaotic rallies. On Wednesday at 6 p.m., WSLS 10 will have more from the Roanoke Police Department on the challenges it faces.