NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — As so much has gone wrong during the pandemic, a 10 On Your Side investigation tells the story of a wrong that was apparently righted during the public health crisis of the century.
If the numbers tell the story, fewer children were involved in crime and fewer children were the victims of crime from March of 2020 through March of 2021 compared to that same period beginning in 2019.
There are some exceptions.
On Aug. 25, 2020, Honesty Brehon became the youngest victim of gun violence in modern Hampton Roads history. Norfolk police say a gang member, Kimahni Lankford, known on the streets as G-Stacks, opened fire in the Huntersville section of Norfolk with an assault-style weapon.
Honesty, at less than 1 month old, her mother Jakireya and three other adults were hit with gunfire. Miraculously, all victims survived. The trial date for Lankford, who faces five counts of attempted first-degree murder, is pending.
While Honesty’s case represents an outrageous assault on a child, for the most part, the first year of the pandemic saw a significant decrease in the number of children across the region who were the victims of crime.
When you map out the numbers across the metro area, every city that provided data reported a significant decrease in the number of children who were the victims of crime. Norfolk posted a decrease of 76%, Portsmouth was down 13%, and the Chesapeake incidents were down 39%. The Virginia Beach numbers are pending under a Freedom of Information Act request.
Crimes against children were down 20% in Suffolk and on the Virginia Peninsula, the decrease was 17% in Hampton and Newport News posted a decrease of 13%.
Norfolk police say efforts to stem the spread of the virus coupled with community programs and curfew enforcement made the streets safer for minors.
“Every precinct goes out every night and makes sure that anyone who is underage, we get them off the street and get them home. We’ve brought the family back home, a lot of parents are working from home, a lot of kids are learning from home as well,” said Capt. Renato Aponte, who is part of the Community Affairs program of the Norfolk Police Department.
Generally, under the curfew, minors must be off the streets by 11 p.m. through 5 a.m. unless the minor is in the company of a responsible adult.
10 On Your Side investigators are also tracking a significant decrease in the number of suspects, under the age of 18 who committed crimes during the first year of the pandemic.
The decreases range from 16% in Portsmouth, to 78% in Norfolk.
In Chesapeake where the reduction was 44%, the police chief says measures to protect the public from the virus, have protected children from crime.
“It tells us the theory about the crime triangle; it’s actually valid. The crime triangle is simply this: you have three things in order for a crime to occur. You have a victim, an offender, and a location. Remove any of those elements and you can’t have a crime to occur.,” said Police Chief Kelvin Wright.
Antonio Woolard knows something about crime across the region. He’s a drug kingpin-turned-preacher.
“Proverbs says train up the child in the way they should go and when they get older, they won’t depart from that. I am a product of that because I used to be a kingpin drug dealer and a gangster but I was in this church at 8 years old — I was in this church,” said Woolard, who is the pastor of St. Paul Christian Fellowship, which is in the 2200 block of Courtney Avenue in the Barraud Park section of Norfolk.
He is in a unique position to reach out to young people who need positive male role models.
“Everybody basically knows me throughout this community and they know that I’m an O.G. [ Original Gangster] and everywhere I go … they know me and they pretty much respect me — even the gang members — because they know my past and they know I’m not afraid of them,” said Woolard.
Woolard is fearful of what could happen when children return to in-person learning.
“Hopefully they will have things in place in school that will prevent bullying and all the different ills that cause our children to disconnect or want to fight or have to fight and survive,” he said.
Mitigation efforts to slow the spread of the virus removed components of the crime triangle, thus making the streets safer for the innocent like Honesty Brehon. Honesty, born premature, can now crawl and make cooing sounds when she is in need. Police say the entire village is needed to protect our future.
“This is an opportunity to hit ‘reset’ and perhaps do even more outreach to people and get them involved in positive social activities,” said Wright, the Chesapeake police chief.
Wright says across the city all crime is down 20% to the lowest rate in the history of Chesapeake, which was formed as an independent city in 1963. He is hopeful social changes that have created safer streets will last for years to come.
“Of late, I see a lot of kids of differing ages playing together and that’s a positive sign for me,” said Wright.