Roanoke City gun violence task force prepares for public hearing, celebrates grant award

Grant will fund a full time position to run a trauma response team

ROANOKE, Va. – The Roanoke City Police Department will soon be hiring for a new job that community activists hope will cut down on violence in the city.

It's something Roanoke's Task Force to Reduce Gun Violence identified as a key part of the plan, and it's something that's been in the making in the star city for more than a decade.

Roanoke Vice-Mayor Joe Cobb said the city applied for the grant earlier in the year, before the task force was formed, and never heard back. The city assumed it was not selected, and when the topic came up in the task force, members decided to keep moving on with the idea despite not receiving the money. But now that it has come through, it's the cherry on top.

No one may be more pleased than Rita Joyce, who helped co-found FedUp, more than a decade ago in response to a gun death in her family. The volunteer group acted as a response unit to victims' family and friends, offering a hand navigating life after a traumatic violent incident. After six years of work, they were forced to put it on pause.

"The resources got low, and we just couldn't do it anymore and so it got put on the back burner, but we never stopped counseling and helping and supporting people who experienced what we did," Joyce said.

On Monday night Joyce and the rest of the task force celebrated a major victory, as the city was awarded a grant for a full time staff member in the police department to manage a program similar to what Joyce and others started. The new team will work hand in hand with FedUp providing rapid response. The task force identified the need for this program early on, and were especially encouraged when they found out FedUp already existed and just needed a bit of help.

"The way we do that is we find out what's at work in our community, and how can we amplify that work and raise it up and work together to expand it," VIce-Mayor Joe Cobb said.

The group suggests establishing a 24/7 response system to both help prevent violence and react to it. It's just one arm of a multi step plan they're presenting to the city council after months of work.

"It's a starting place, and I think for our city that has been struggling with this issue for so long, to at least have a starting point in finding some solutions is really critical," Cobb said.

The group will present its draft plan for public comment Thursday at 7 p.m. in the city council chambers. Joyce is already thrilled knowing that what she helped start has gotten the seal of approval, and more importantly the backing, of city leaders.

"I'm very fulfilled right now, my hearts heavy, my heart is just overwhelmed right now to know that FedUp will be put back into life," Joyce said.

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