As shootings continue, Roanoke leaders prioritize problems and possible solutions

Vice Mayor Joe Cobb said information points to a gang problem

ROANOKE, Va. – Faith, city and cultural leaders continue to scramble to find a way to curb gun violence in the Roanoke Valley. On Monday night, the task force to reduce gun violence met to strategize and set priorities for what they want to see happen.

There are a lot of steps to the process. Some will be quicker than others, like the deployment of a new rapid response team to work with the family, friends and neighbors of gun violence victims. How to actually prevent the shooting from happening, however, is a longer term item. On Tuesday night they focused on what they want to achieve, with the plan of working over the 10 weeks to develop an actionable plan to give to Roanoke City Council.

Dots of crime across city maps charted the way for people to figure out where to go from here. The meeting was not the first meeting for the task force, but it was the first with large community input, digging into the issues at hand.

"Everything from current practices as well as new initiatives that we want to bring, putting them on paper and beginning to prioritize what we want to hone in on," Roanoke Vice-Mayor Joe Cobb said.

Those categories are thriving families, safe neighborhoods, city partnerships, and community engagement. The task force was formed earlier this year as a result of a number of high-profile violent incidents, and in the time since the violence has continued, including a shooting as recent as Sunday morning.

"Not only in Roanoke, but around the world, people are really tired of violence," Cobb said.

Roanoke police Chief Tim Jones updated the group on the crime stats so far. So far in 2019 there have been eight homicides, and nearly 20 other people shot. Compare that to 2018, with nine homicides and 60 people shot. The majority of the shootings have been in Northwest Roanoke, a neighborhood troubled with violence but trying desperately to break the cycle.

"We've seen the gamut of circumstances from relationship issues that go bad, to money debts that go unpaid, to social encounters of bumping into somebody on the dance floor, which triggers some sort of violent response," Jones said.

Of the 15 gun homicides in the past two years, more than half have been solved and ended in an arrest. What was most alarming to many in the room was that 52 weapons violations were recorded for kids and teens since the start of 2018.

Cobb said all of that together weighs on people and the community as a whole.

"When we have that kind of fatigue, we want to find some way to change that cycle, to break it, to do something positive," Cobb said.

Cobb said he has information pointing him to believe there is a gang issue in the city of Roanoke.

The task force will present an actionable plan to City Council in November.

The group will take community feedback at its public meeting Thursday Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. A full list of community meetings is below.

Task Force to Reduce Gun Violence Meeting Dates: All Meetings will be held at the Community Solutions Center, 2328 Melrose Avenue, N.W., unless otherwise noted.

August 22 - Task Force to Reduce Gun Violence Public Hearing, 7 p.m. (City Council Chambers, Noel C. Taylor Municipal Building, 215 Church Avenue, S. W., 4th Floor)

September 9 - Task Force Meeting, 7 p.m.

October 14 - Task Force Meeting, 7 p.m.

October 17 - Task Force to Reduce Gun Violence Public Hearing, 7 pm, (City Council Chambers, Noel C. Taylor Municipal Building, 215 Church Avenue, S. W., 4th Floor)

November 4 - Task Force to Reduce Gun Violence Presentation to City Council, 2 p. m. (City Council Chambers, Noel C. Taylor Municipal Building, 215 Church Avenue, S. W., 4th Floor)