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‘I am ready’: Hopewell interim police chief vows to build relationships amidst rising crime

Published: May. 18, 2022 at 6:48 PM EDT|Updated: May. 18, 2022 at 8:34 PM EDT
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Hopewell, Va. (WWBT) - From property crime to violent crime, the number of cases is up almost across the board in Hopewell, and the city’s Interim Police Chief A.J. Starke says he’s ready to address it all.

“I understand the need - the strong leadership in policing. I understand the need for strong leadership in the community,” Starke said. “We’re tired of crime in our community. And when you get sick and tired of something in our community, you want it to change, and the way it changes is by us working together.”

Starke says he took the chief position at the start of the year after serving 30 years with the Chesterfield Police Department. He believes his decades of experience have prepared him for the unique challenges within Hopewell.

“When we look across our country at the challenges that we have faced in law enforcement, a lot of it stems back to relationships, misinformation, lack of information, and I just see my opportunity as interim police chief as a chance to build that gap,” Starke said. “Over the past five months, I can say without a doubt I am ready. I am a police chief.”

So far in 2022, there have been three homicides compared to last year when there weren’t any.

Burglaries have more than doubled at 24 this year, compared to just nine cases in 2021. Larcenies are also up at 128 incidents, up 20 more than last year.

Starke says the crime trends from this year to last year may be skewed because human behavior was impacted due to the pandemic, which may have resulted in an uncharacteristic reduction in crime.

But Starke says the police department is also filling its remaining officer vacancies amid the rise.

“Our authorized strengthened is 68 sworn. Right now, we have 61, but we do have an academy coming in July, and we’ve been doing a lot of recruiting, and we have quite a few applicants in the background,” Starke said.

But in addition to building up staff, Starke says he’s committed to building up relationships in the community.

“I just want the community to know that we would never lower our standards just so we can check the box to say we’re fully staffed,” Starke said. “Most recently, we launched a crime reduction effort. We wanted more officers on the streets, so what we did is we repurposed our officers who were assigned to non-uniform positions to uniform positions so we could have more officers on the street for a period of time.”

Starke says his hope as the summer months approach is that he will also be able to develop relationships with the city’s youth, who he says are increasingly getting caught up in the crime in Hopewell.

“We can’t just arrest our way out of this. When we look at crime not just in Hopewell but across other communities, we find young people and teenagers are in the center,” Starke said. “We have to make sure that we have not only programs, but we have opportunities available, or we can grow the relationship with the population that we currently don’t have strong relationships with.”

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