After record violent crime and gang wars, Danville Police work to solve problems

Police believe their model could work in other places to fight crime

Gangs shooting at police. That’s how bad things were in Danville when violent crime hit all-time highs less than a decade ago.

DANVILLE, Va. – Gangs shooting at police. That’s how bad things were in Danville when violent crime hit all-time highs less than a decade ago.

It’s taken years and a lot of work to turn the city around.

10 News is working for you on the solutions they found that could work for other cities battling gun violence.

“I remember waking up to a homicide just about every day. You know, the streets were not safe,” said Tyquan Graves, a Danville Police Investigator who grew up in the city.

A convenience store owner shot and killed, a shootout at Buffalo Wild Wings, police officers and delivery drivers shot at.

From 2016 to 2018, Danville was violent and deadly — with 800 reports of things like homicide, rape, robbery and aggravated assault.

“There was a set calling themselves the Danville Police Department killers, DPDK, over on the south side of town and they were associated with a National Blood set,” said Richardson. “We actually had two incidents of police cars shot in 2016. One with an officer in the car and one during a traffic stop. It was things that we hadn’t seen here.”

At one point, Danville had Virginia’s highest homicide rate per capita, and that’s when they needed to call in other agencies, like the FBI.

“The United States Attorney’s Office, the Western District, some of their prosecutors and leadership there were here with us almost daily,” said Richardson.

That’s what Chief Booth walked into in his first day on the job in 2018. Soon after, he did the first community walk at Cardinal Village, something that’s become a staple of the Danville policing model.

“A number of young men had lost their lives over there and there was also an inherent mistrust of the police. Also from the police officer side, they really felt that the folks that lived there did not like them, that did not want anything to do with the police,” said Chief Booth.

They knocked on doors and had conversations.

Two hours later, “I could tell the officers really felt better. They were like, ‘Hey, not everybody hates us over here’. The community was like, ‘Hey, not all police are bad’. And that was really foundational for us,” said Booth.

They’ve added to what they do in the community. Holding events for kids like a summer camp.

“You see engagement, getting young people engaged to get the parents engaged, you get to come in and engage then everyone in the community feels like being part of the community,” said Mayor Alonzo Jones, who added positive events like this make a difference. “It’s not all about stop and frisk and arrest people. But it’s building a relationship.”

A map of Danville crime and improvements made over the years. (Courtesy: Danville Police Department)

The police chief also stresses focus and accountability. The city is divided into four parts and they talk about those sections weekly.

“I want it to be very conversational. It’s not adversarial,” said Booth. “We’re going to talk about any unsolved crimes that are out there. We’re going to talk about what we’re doing to solve those crimes. We’re talking about our clearance rates.”

Those rates have skyrocketed:

  • Since 2018, there have been 29 homicides in Danville, 26 of those are cleared by arrest.
  • Clearance rates on other crimes are higher than all the national averages. Danville’s clearance rate for robbery in 2019-2021 was at least 66%, where the national clearance rate is 30%. The city’s aggravated assault clearance rates were more than 71% and the national average is about half.
  • Violent crime and burglary have dropped by about 50% over the last 3 years.

“Every community has different challenges and different opportunities. I think the basic template would work. Any type of focus and accountability system that you use in policing will work,” said Booth, who added the community feedback stands out. “They’re not afraid to go outside anymore.”

There are other things they point to that are working too. We detail those in our Solutionaries series, where this month we’re tackling safety in our communities. You can see those Solutionaries stories here.

This story is part of a program at WSLS 10, Solutionaries. Solutions offer hope and that’s the belief of Solutionaries, a show from our parent company, Graham Media Group, focusing on those who are taking on some of our biggest challenges. Each episode focuses on effective responses to problems and offers viewers ways they can join the effort for positive change.

We tackle one topic at a time, highlighting problems many of us are dealing with and the solutions that are out there. The solution could be in our backyard, or something else that’s working across the country.

You can check out our story on fighting inflation with creative ways to keep food costs down from March here and urban heat islands in Virginia and their deadly effects from February here.

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About the Author:

You can see Jenna weekday mornings at the anchor desk on WSLS 10 Today from 5-7 a.m. She also leads our monthly Solutionaries Series, where we highlight the creative thinkers and doers working to make the world a better place.