After a spate of recent shootings in the Charlottesville area, the city’s police chief says he is taking action: increasing patrols, hosting a community forum and walking the streets himself.
“I’ve been walking through the communities and speaking with folks – to really listen to those folks who live in those communities who are most affected by gun crime,” Charlottesville Police Chief Michael Kochis told The Daily Progress on Friday. “And the message that I have heard is very clear. They want police in their communities. They want us to be the police again.”
Kochis has said he plans to target three specific neighborhoods that have become hot spots for gun violence: 10th and Page, parts of Charlottesville “a little further away from 10th and Page” and the Corner near the University of Virginia.
All three have been the scenes of gun violence in recent months.
Shootings has taken 11 lives and injured at least 21 people in the city of Charlottesville and surrounding Albemarle County since September, according to a Daily Progress tally. In Charlottesville alone there have three homicides in the first six weeks of the year, officially surpassing the two killings that were reported in that same period last year.
In the most recent incident, police were dispatched to the 10th & Page neighborhood around 3:41 p.m. on Wednesday, where a 20-year-old Gordonsville man, Nicklous Pendleton, was found fatally shot in a pickup truck at the intersection of Hardy Drive and Page Street.
Police were still processing the scene Wednesday when a city school bus dropped off more than a dozen students.
While no suspect has been named or any arrest made, police have said that Pendleton knew his killer.
“The last three homicides we’ve had this year all involved people who were acquainted with each other or knew each other,” said Kochis. “So it wasn’t random, but that doesn’t make the parents of the kids getting off the school bus after something like this feel any better.”
Kochis has said he intends to increase patrols in 10th & Page and other hotspots, where there will be an increase of offices on foot and bicycle and in vehicles. There will also be plainclothes officers in those areas speaking with members of the community, he’s said.
Kochis also said has just assigned a detective to work full-time with the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force.
“The resources that come with the FBI, the task force, are very helpful,” he said.
Previously the police chief in the town of Warrenton, Kochis assumed command of a smaller-than-authorized Charlottesville force on Jan. 16. He said the Charlottesville Police Department should have 110 officers but currently operates with 81.
Police spokesman Kyle Ervin said the police department had 20 participants attend its last hiring event and that 10 of them are moving forward to the next stage in the process.
“Some are currently certified, which means we can get them in the doors faster,” Ervin told The Daily Progress in a text message. “Others will have to attend training.”
That will happen, Ervin said, at Central Shenandoah Criminal Justice Training Academy, a nationally accredited facility offering a 20-week program.
While he rebuilds the force, Kochis said that his team has begun circulating weekly “heat maps” that show officers high-crime areas they should patrol by car, foot and bicycle.
“Their free time will be spent in those areas,” said Kochis.
Kochis would not say whether he thinks the spike in gun violence stems from his predecessor’s decision to cut ties with JADE, the Jefferson Area Drug Task Force.
JADE, a multijurisdictional task force, gave the police department access to paid informants who served as some of the department’s eyes and ears. Former Police Chief RaShall Brackney severed ties with JADE before she was fired in 2021 amid allegations of attrition and low morale among officers.
Kochis said he could only speak generally.
“The ability to receive information and who’s doing what and why is very important,” said Kochis.
While stopping short of criticizing Brackney, Kochis asserted that one of his key tasks is shoring up relationships between officers and the public.
“Over the last four or five years, this police department has stopped engaging with the community,” he said. “We stopped having National Night Out, we stopped doing the Community Police Academy, we stopped doing these programs that were designed to involve the community with the police department and build meaningful relationships.”
The Charlottesville chapter of the left-wing activist group Showing Up for Racial Justice has said that no amount of police involvement can help. The group hosted a public discussion on the Downtown Mall earlier this month where attendees envisioned “a world without police.”
SURJ has encouraged Charlottesville to divert money away from policing and toward mental health and substance abuse treatment.
While Kochis said he agrees those things are vital, he believes that residents are actually clamoring for police.
“They want us to be out there meeting with members of the community policing in a procedurally just way and in a way that treats people fairly with dignity and respect,” he said. “But also in a way where people don’t feel comfortable walking around in broad daylight with a gun.”
That said, Kochis said he welcomes the public’s input.
He will be hosting a community forum on the recent gun violence on Feb. 27. The event, slated to begin at 6 p.m., will be held at Old Trinity Church at 415 10th St., a third of a mile away from where Pendleton was shot and killed on Wednesday.
“We can’t prevent crime alone,” Kochis said.
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