Roanoke Police talk setbacks, solutions to juvenile gun violence

‘This is a problem. We need to fix it.’

ROANOKE, Va. – Lieutenant Kenny Sauls oversees criminal investigations at the Roanoke City Police Department, including crimes involving juveniles.

“This is a problem. We need to fix it,” Sauls said. “When it’s a child, I mean, that hurts everybody. Hurts family, community, schools. You name it.”

To date in 2023, 22 juveniles have been victims of firearm-related offenses. Of those 22, seven minors have been shot. In total, 13 juveniles have committed weapons violations, sometimes by accident.

Sauls says this year’s numbers are similar to past years, but it’s still unsettling. And he says the department is struggling to get ahead of the problem.

Sauls says the COVID-19 pandemic hurt community relationships.

“We’re behind the eight ball,” Sauls said. “A lot of those community relations we had before, kind of fell to the wayside. You know, where we’re in schools, we’re in these communities walking around making contact. All that stuff kind of went away. Now we’re trying to get back to that.”

The department is also currently down 55 officers.

“It’s harder for us to get out and walk a street, make contact with families, kids, whatever, because we’re just, we’re overwhelmed with calls,” Sauls said.

Sauls says a lack of gun safety education, parental supervision, and gangs all impact juvenile crime rates.

“We do have gangs in Roanoke and there are juveniles in those gangs,” Sauls said. “I’m not naïve enough to think that these kids aren’t being recruited for gangs, you know. I have no doubt that they are.”

This week, Roanoke City Council debated expanding curfew hours for minors ahead of the summer.

Sauls says a curfew is a tool officers can use, but it’s difficult to enforce, there are exceptions and many times these violent incidents happen at home. Plus, police say most of the incidents involving juveniles happen outside of curfew hours.

“It may be after curfew hours, but they’re at their home. So are they really violating curfew? No. The trouble came to them,” Sauls said.

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