DANVILLE, Va. – Many people in Roanoke are hopeful the new police chief is going to make a big difference when it comes to record numbers of violent crime.
In a 10 News exclusive, Jenna Zibton sat down with Scott Booth one-on-one to learn more about his plans for Roanoke City.
“We’re going to be very focused on crime on where crime is happening, and we’re going to be hyper-focused on violent offenders,” said Booth, who has a strong message for criminals ahead of his first day on the job as Roanoke Police Chief. “We are going to be relentless when it comes to crime, especially violent crime. You’re not going to be shooting in the community; you’re not going to be harming people in the community and not be held accountable.”
Booth is familiar with the grim statistics Roanoke has right now for just this year.
“You’ve already had more homicides this year than last year,” said Booth. “Which is not a joking matter.”
There have been 26 homicides so far this year, a number that Roanoke hasn’t seen since the 1970s. Most of those homicides are gun-related.
“My vision for Roanoke is what we saw here in Danville, working together, high rates of crime, can be reduced: accountability, trust, empowerment partners working together, hyper-focused on where crime is happening, hyper-focused on those violent offenders, holding them accountable will work. We’re having a bad year in Roanoke. It’s a bad year,” said Booth, who doubled down on bringing those numbers down.
“We’re going to bring those numbers down because those victims are much more than a number. That’s a loss of a life right there. When I look at my role as police chief, and sometimes I talk too much probably about crime reduction, but I take it very seriously because every victim out there is a person. You look at every homicide, every murder victim has a family. It’s a loss of life; it’s a traumatic impact of that family, into that community. So I take that very seriously. As the new chief in Roanoke, Virginia, I will tell you that we will be hyper-focused on reducing those numbers of homicide victims,” said Booth.
10 News: It’s no secret there are specific pockets where gun violence and crime happens. Are those going to be your go-to first days on the job?
“I am going to get out there and I want to walk in the community. I want to talk to people that have been victimized in the community. In conjunction with that, we’re going to make sure we have officers focused on that community,” said Booth. “If that’s where people are being victimized, then that’s where the cops need to be. But we also have to make sure that we’re doing that in a way that we’re not over policing the community, that we’re not causing harm, while others are causing harm there.”
He elaborated a little more about what that policing looks like in specific neighborhoods, like Northwest and Southeast Roanoke.
“You have to be there. You have to show up. But you have to be very focused and you have to be very deliberate. You can’t just blanket neighborhoods with police officers and expect positive results. Okay, maybe you stopped some incidents from occurring, but sometimes the broken relationships that can occur when you’re over policing, if you’re just pulling everybody over for any tiny traffic infraction, there’s a lot of negative results that can happen,” said Booth.
Right now, Roanoke police battle people not talking to them, even people who have been shot. We asked Booth how he was going to get people to talk so they can do their job investigating crime, noting there have been at least 23 shooting incidents in Roanoke and just two arrests in four months.
“We saw a lot of that here too. Right?” said Booth. “I look at the things that we’ve done here to build trust, build relationships, the effort that we used to put on a shooting or a homicide scene when I first got here in 2018, to what we do now. Or non-fatal shooting in 2018 versus what we do now with my team here, just like well, my team in Roanoke. Alright, that is game day. All right, that’s where resources come to bear. That’s where I’m there. That’s when senior staff members and detectives have everything they need. They’re trusted, they’re supported. The community has what it needs. [It] might not happen overnight, Jenna, but it will happen. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen the transition. I’ve seen communities turn that corner.”
10 News: How do you build that trust?
“A lot of that was the way we built it here, right? So I hate to say, ‘Hey, this is the Danville motto. [It] will work in Roanoke. But there are some things that always work right? Being approachable, being accessible. Officers out of their cars, walking in neighborhoods, officers connecting with people. Me, being approachable and accessible, being in meetings, building relationships with people, building a brand. Roanoke, that police department, is looked at as a team that we want to be a part of. I want officers that are from the community that look like the community that want to work with me to make things better,” said Booth. “Overwhelmingly Roanoke police officers love their community. They’re proud of their community. They understand that there are some challenges, but they are ready to embrace those challenges.”
10 News: What is your vision for Roanoke?
“So my vision for Roanoke is for the Star City to be safer for them, to have a police department that is very focused on crime, that is very focused on community engagement. I’m not going to say we’re going to be another Danville because Roanoke is not Danville. It has some similar problems, specifically with gun violence that we’ve been successful at turning the corner. But you know, we have a large unhoused population there in Roanoke that needs us. We have people that struggle with addiction and we have other crime matters that need our attention,” said Booth.
Booth has talked with Roanoke Police officers and done ride-alongs with them too. Because he already works in the region, the chief already has relationships that get results with federal agencies like the ATF, DEA, and the US Attorney’s office. He plans to leverage those and work with everyone from local, state and federal offices.
10 News: What kind of challenges are you going to face?
“Some of the same challenges that I faced here. You’re going to have skeptics. You’re going to have people both inside the department and community members that are going to be like, ‘Is this going to work? Is this guy going to walk the walk or is he just talking the talk?’ I don’t talk the talk. I believe in doing things of depth, both within the department and within the community. They’re going to impact us for the better. That’s what I’ve done here. I’ve done other places. I believe that I know that is what works. Winning some of those skeptics over. That’s always the hardest, but everybody wants to be a part of a winning team. Everybody wants to jump on when things start moving, and we’re going to get things moving. We’re going to start seeing some, some very positive results, hopefully early on,” said Booth.
Danville has a lot of technology that other local departments don’t have that can solve crimes faster or at least give investigators leads. Booth said he’s already been talking to federal agencies that can help pay for some of that technology in Roanoke.
10 News: You’ve been a finalist for other chief jobs, why Roanoke?
“I think Roanoke is a community that is just phenomenal, right? You’ve got people that want to come together that want to work with the police to reduce crime. The fact that you already have some collaborative models in place there, like the Gun Violence Prevention Commission, groups like Fed Up that are tired, that are literally fed up about gun violence in the community. That excites me,” explained Booth. “I said, ‘Would this be a place where they would accept me, where I would be a fit, where I can work with that department in the community to make things better?’ And I believe it is. So that’s why Roanoke. I think I’m a fit there. I hope they like me. I hope they like the things that we build together to reduce crime. I think we’ll move the needle.”
Booth told us he was actually born in Roanoke, when his mom was working downtown and his dad was going to Virginia Tech. They moved when he was about one and never came back, but he heard stories about the city growing up.
“I’m going to claim native status,” said Booth. “Hearing the stories about Roanoke as I was growing up, Star City, things that they would do as young people just starting their career, just starting their family. It was always a part of the conversation. So kind of going back to that. That’s important to me too, being able to go back to kind of where I started. I’m not getting any younger.”
Booth starts on October 31.
You can see what he says about his biggest accomplishments as Danville Police Chief in this story, along with what he says about how Danville continues its crime-fighting success when he leaves.
Watch our full interview with Booth below.