BACK BAY — I recently wrote about trying to do more to cover where the community and law enforcement come together and do real work. That’s a goal for our paper this year.
I write now about one of the simplest and most effective ways to interact with Virginia Beach’s Finest either on matters of concern or to support their work. These are the volunteer citizens advisory committees in each of the four precincts.
I’ve been doing this newspaper for nearly six years now. My experience is with the First Precinct because that’s the main coverage area for The Independent News. Plus, I live in a rural community that is within the precinct boundaries. In that time, I’ve found a number of stories I don’t hear about at City Council meetings, and I have simply learned a lot about issues in our city.
Following months of unrest about social justice – and in the wake of the appalling violent acts at our U.S. Capitol this past month – I wrote about CACs on social media because someone I know shared information about a large organization that has positioned itself as a pro-police group.
I’m not going to get into the details of that, but I gently suggest homework before someone asks for your credit card number. Anyway, your money, time or participation probably would do a heck of a lot more good right here where we live.
I spoke with Fran Laskey, president of the First Police Precinct Citizens Advisory Committee about the benefit of meetings – though, obviously, those are on hold due to the pandemic – and connecting with other citizens and various city officials.
“I know it’s difficult right now without in-person meetings,” Laskey said, “but what we really need is for people to come out to CAC meetings and to reinstate neighborhood watch – to see if there is a way to make their community safer.”
For now, people can simply reach out to Laskey via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and connect. She sends out regular email “blasts” with lots of information.
When meetings resume, people can hear about issues in communities and address their own concerns directly with officials from public safety departments and other agencies, such as code enforcement, parks and the commonwealth’s attorney.
“If there are problems in a neighborhood, everybody who attends a meeting … gets to ask a question or present the problem that affects their neighborhood,” Laskey said.
Those who may not want to ask a question in a group can connect directly with officials when the meeting concludes. Or at least get pointed in the right direction.
“The other thing I see as a big advantage is when issues are expressed openly at a meeting, you see what other communities are doing or that other communities are having the problem,” Laskey told me. “It’s this sharing of ideas and information that’s more important than anything else.”
And CAC supports officers through awards recognizing their work and remembering them around the holidays.
I asked Laskey about the perception that working with a city committee is kind of a club. That is not the case with CACs, established to connect police and communities.
“Anybody who steps up to the plate in terms of being a CAC officer does so voluntarily,” Laskey said, meaning they aren’t hand-picked by police or a member of the City Council.
“By no means is this a committee that is selected by the city,” she said. “The City Council has nothing to do with us. The mayor has nothing to do with us. We’re under the aegis of the police department, but the chief does not handpick the officers.”
The CAC also can accept donations, for those who want to support its work, written to the First Police Precinct CAC – not to the police department.
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