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Danville Police Chief on staffing challenges, gang violence, homeless population

Many people in Roanoke are hopeful the new police chief is going to make a big difference when it comes to violent crime.

In a 10 News exclusive, Jenna Zibton sat down with Scott Booth one-on-one to learn more about his plans for Roanoke City.

As Danville Police Chief for the past five years, Booth challenged skeptics of community policing. His results show the approach is working.

“The highest professional honor and privilege I’ve had is being the chief of police here in the City of Danville,” said Booth, as he looked back on his time in the river city.

[WATCH: How Danville was able to curb violent crime]

10 News asked what Booth believes is his biggest achievement since coming to Danville.

“I came to a community that would say in 2017 and 2016, at the height of youth violence in our community, that community policing doesn’t work here. They would openly say that that model is not something that we can use to build relationships, not something that we can use to gain trust and legitimacy in the community. Over the last five and half years together, we have proven them wrong,” said Booth.

10 News: Have people learned from what you’ve done here?

“We’ve taken our local model, and really kind of spread that to other parts of the nation. But at the end of the day, law enforcement and crime reduction are local. There are some commonalities that will work anywhere. So there are some things that have worked well for me, us, in Danville that I’ll certainly take to Roanoke, but Roanoke is a different community. I have to go in with eyes wide open, make sure I really get a gauge for what the community wants, kind of what the department’s doing currently that’s great,” said Booth.

Community policing in Danville includes police walking in neighborhoods immediately after a shooting, food giveaways and father-daughter dances.

“There’s still skeptics. There are still people who say, ‘Well, why aren’t those police officers out there doing enforcement?’ Well, the truth is, we can do both and we do both. We have a great community engagement team, and we also have officers who are very focused on crime in our community. That is why you have to do both to really get those results,” said Booth.

Danville hit a thirty-year low when it comes to crime, in part, thanks to Booth’s leadership.

“We have clearance rates that far exceed the national average because people are comfortable and will talk to us when an incident occurs. I’m most proud of that,” said Booth.

Under Booth’s Danville model of policing in 2019-2022:

  • Violent crime dropped by more than half (52%)
  • 89% of homicides were cleared by arrests (24 of 27 homicides)
  • The number of robberies, burglaries, aggravated assaults and property crimes all dropped too

“Many times people want to believe it’s a trade-off. They see community engagement happening and while ‘those officers they aren’t doing their job, they’re not there arresting people.’ They think it has to be one of the other, but it has to be both. You have to do focused policing, but you have to work on building relationships. You can’t have one without the other, at least not effectively,” said Booth.

Many people in Roanoke are concerned about the unhoused population and major staffing shortages in the police department.

As we’ve reported, Roanoke is down dozens of officers. In May, the Roanoke City Police Department was short more than 50 officers.

Police officers left Danville after Scott Booth became chief.

10 News: Did you face people who were hard to win over?

“Change is hard and the resistance was there. Usually, what I see, or what I’ve seen in my career, if you show people a better way of doing things, they’re gonna jump on board, right? If it’s safe, legal, moral, ethical, when you’ve got something that’s working, they’re gonna jump on board with [it], and that’s what I saw here,” Booth said.

He eventually built a new brand around the Danville Police Department. Booth hired officers who were community-focused and found some who saw his vision manifest in Danville and wanted to be a part of the change.

Booth said boosting diversity was important when he came to Danville. During his time as chief, they went from 12 percent African American officers to about 24 percent now.

“I always want our department to be as reflective of the community as I can. I think that is always best practices in policing, that you need to be reflective of your city,” said Booth, who adds the city of Danville’s African American population is about half the total population. “The only way we did that is by really creating a department that all people felt connected to and wanted to be a part of.”

Booth also brought in people who don’t think like police officers to connect with specific groups at risk:

  • Kids in middle and high school involved in violence, or with discipline issues in school
  • Programs for underserved groups like the unhoused, those who suffer from addiction, and those who have been incarcerated.

People Booth said don’t have help to get them a job or even an ID.

“Many people will say, ‘Well, that’s not a police role.’ Maybe it’s not, but building relationships is a police role, so I think it goes hand in hand. Anytime I look at a group that has the potential to either be a victim, specifically a victim, and sometimes those victims can also turn and become offenders because that lot in life, you know, with addiction and left them out on the street, where they feel like the only thing that they can do is break into somebody’s car or house or what have you. I want to build that relationship early on. I think that helps us better serve our community and helps them give back to their community in a productive way, versus victimizing their community,” said Booth, who admits nothing is off the table when it comes to what his officers will do.

“We try to do it all sometimes and I worry about mission creep because we do so much. But when you look into specific populations that we interact with the most, that is where we have to start. We have to keep our fingers on that constantly. We really have to maintain those relationships, build effective programming that’s working for them and for us,” said Booth.

Booth starts as Roanoke Police Chief on October 31, following Sam Roman’s departure in July.

10 News: What’s been the reaction from people about the move?

“It’s been mixed,” said Booth. “There are some people that I think are excited to see me maybe go to another community to see if we can make a positive impact there together. I think they’re like, ‘Hey, he’s done some things. His team has done some great things in Danville. Can he do the same thing in Roanoke?’ So I think there’s some excitement there. But there’s also some anxiety. Truthfully, I think there’s some anger. I think people looking at me as kind of bailing out some on Danville, which is a little hurtful. I feel that we have done some things here that just have been phenomenal.”

He believes Danville will be just fine without him and they have great people and programs in place to keep the momentum going.

You can see more of our exclusive interview with Chief Booth on Tuesday morning on Virginia Today from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m.

We talked to Booth about:

  • What he’s doing on day one when he comes to Roanoke
  • Specific neighborhoods like southeast and northwest where a lot of the shootings occur
  • The high numbers of violent crime and shootings

Source: WSLS News 10

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