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Police Chief says there’s a ‘plethora’ of guns on the streets of Alexandria

(Left to right) Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Strange, Police Chief Don Hayes, Jennifer Borbach and retired Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, Agenda Alexandria’s May panel discussing crime in the city, May 22, 2023 at the Lyceum (staff photo by James Cullum)

Amid a crime surge, Alexandria Police Chief Don Hayes said Monday night that the police force is seeing a “plethora” of guns out on the streets.

Alexandria’s gun-related crime jumped 100% in 2022 over 2021, and Hayes says that overall crime is up 27% for the year.

“I can tell you there are a plethora of guns out on the street,” Hayes said at an Agenda Alexandria panel on the crime surge. “I just read the last four daily watch reports that we have. There was one where officers stopped the car and they arrested the individual for having burglary tools in the car and also there was a gun there. Your officers made an arrest of a stolen car the other day, and in the stolen car there was a stolen gun. One of the shootings that happened about probably three weeks ago, up off of Madison Street, everyone one of the three (suspected) individuals that were stopped all had guns.”

Monday’s panel was held at The Lyceum, and included retired Sheriff Dana Lawhorne, Alexandria City High School parent Jennifer Rohrbach and Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Strange. It was moderated by Agenda Alexandria chair Rod Kuckro.

Rohrbach witnessed two fights outside Alexandria City High School last year when she went to pick up her child, prompting her to begin advocating for student safety.

“I witnessed two fights in front of the school picking my daughter up on different days,” she said. “And then a student was arrested with a loaded glock very close to the classroom at the front door. So what I did is I started getting involved in online groups and one thing led to another and so here I am advocating for safety in the city and for our kids.”

Hayes said that a lot of the uptick in gun violence is attributable to “crews” of violent youth and stopped short of calling them gangs. He also said that the guns seized are a mix of legal and illegal weapons.

“It’s the beefs that are going on between the crews, some from down Route 1, some from Woodbridge, some from Alexandria, and there is no one particular reason why it’s happening.” Hayes said. “I just think that things have changed and hopefully this is not going to be a norm, we can get a handle on this, and get them to do some other things that are constructive. But I will say this: that it’s been happening a lot, just not the same characters.”

The department’s strategy so far is to add police presence to high-crime areas, putting more cops in communities with public events and the strategically placement of mobile camera units. Hayes also said that his office is in constant communication with neighboring law enforcement agencies, as crime is up regionally and nationally.

Lawhorne, who served as sheriff from 2006 to 2021, said that there need to be harsher punishments for such offenses.

“These notification of shots fired, most are if Rod does something to make me mad, I drive over to his house, I stick my gun out the window, and I discharge it about 12 times with shell casings around the street,” Lawhorne said. “Rod’s going to return the favor. He’s going to drive back to my house and he’s going to do the same thing. That’s a simple explanation of kind of what’s going on… However, it’s done to intimidate others, but it is terrorizing neighborhoods and it’s unnacceptable.”

Lawhorne said that underage possession of a firearm is a class one misdemeanor, as is public discharge of a firearm.

“Unfortunately, sometimes those bullets hit property, or sometimes people, but let me say the majority they’re shooting in the air to intimidate somebody,” Lawhorne said. “Unless I hit somebody or their property it’s a class one misdemeanor. There needs to be harsher penalties for this reckless behavior.”

Hayes also said that the department is also short-staffed, and that significant resources are devoted to an increase in mental health-related calls for service.

“It’s a significant drain on our resources, and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight,” Hayes said.

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