Category Archives: Crime , corrections and law enforcement

Handling Threats in Schools is Hampered by Progressive Cultures and Lack of Individual Initiative

Bice House at UVa

by James C. Sherlock

Virginia’s school threat assessment and mitigation processes are broken, putting entire school communities in danger.

The University of Virginia shootings and the rapes at two Loudoun County high schools were each preventable had the focus been on intervention by authorities responsible to do so. It was clearly not.

School cultures are an issue, but not an excuse.

One signal in progressive jurisdictions is the creation of committees and teams to define and enforce progressive cultural orthodoxy. At the extremes, leaders will even assign cultural enforcers to teams that have serious threat deliberation and action responsibilities.

Like threat assessment teams.

But that is insufficient excuse here. I see four factors at play in all three tragedies.

  1. Special situation policies and plans — like those that failed in Virginia’s pandemic response and more recently in school threat responses — usually fail without executive interest, oversight, and the training, exercise, accountability and inspection of action agencies prior to need.
  2. The chief executives of the Loudoun County Public Schools and the University of Virginia failed to set a clear tone and show by their actions that school safety took precedence over extraneous considerations and values.
  3. Second-tier executives with specific responsibilities for safety at UVa and in the Loudoun school system (at least one principal) failed to do their duties.
  4. The individual members of threat teams do not shed their personal executive authorities and responsibilities upon meeting as a group. They remain personally responsible and have to carry out their duties against cultural headwinds and enforcers. They failed in the UVa case. It is nowhere clear they were even used in the Loudoun cases.

There was a price paid for those failures. But only a single member of that hierarchy has been fired, and that happened yesterday in Loudoun county.

Five UVa students and two Loudoun County girls paid very high prices indeed. Continue reading

Grand Jury Report on Loudoun Schools Raises Threat Assessment Issue – Again

Stone Bridge High School Chantilly

by James C. Sherlock

Update Dec. 7 at 7:33:  LCPS Superintendent Scott Ziegler was fired yesterday by the school board.  That does not begin to resolve the issue of threat assessment.

The University of Virginia Threat Assessment Team (TAT), with knowledge of a threat, failed to intervene before tragedy in the case of the student who is alleged to have killed three and wounded two other students on that bus a few weeks ago.

The only disagreements are whether the failure was a state policy mistake, state oversight mistake, a systemic mistake at the University of Virginia, a mistake of the persons on the TAT or some combination.

Now we have a grand jury report on another pair of incidents that question the effectiveness of threat assessment and mitigation in our public K-12 schools.

As with the colleges and universities, we have state laws and model policies in place for K-12 schools. As with the institutions of higher learning, there is no state oversight to ensure compliance.

So, as at UVa, in practice the TAT process failed — or from the evidence so far wasn’t even employed — in two different Loudoun County high schools when there was ample warning to officials of both schools that a student was an imminent threat.

He proved to be a rapist — twice.

Laws and policies without either oversight or consequences for those who fail to execute them provide false comfort with tragic consequences that are seemingly endless here. Continue reading

We Don’t Pay Virginia Beach Cops Enough

by Kerry Dougherty

On Monday, Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate did something unusual: he released a video showing the fatal shooting of 28-year-old suspected car thief, Deshawn Whitaker, in a strip mall parking lot last week.

Police are usually loathe to release dash cam and body cam footage in the immediate aftermath of a shooting, no matter how justified the killing.

Neudigate broke with protocol, he explained, to dispel false reports circulating that the dead man and his female passenger were unarmed and that Whitaker didn’t receive prompt medical attention.

Typical anti-cop rhetoric that spreads through the community any time a criminal is killed. You can see spectators gathering in the video.

In fact, both the driver and passenger had guns and posed an immediate danger to the officer. Oh, and fire fighters – who are also paramedics – arrived on the scene during the five-minute video.

While the chief wanted to tamp down inflammatory anti-police rumors, the video does more. It gives the viewer an eyewitness account of the chaotic and dangerous life of a Beach police officer. Continue reading

Don’t Look Now But the ACLU is Back

by Kerry Dougherty

Anyone remember how active Virginia’s ACLU — that’s the American Civil Liberties Union — was during Gov. Ralph Northam’s dictatorial Covid reign?

Did this organization sprint into court seeking injunctions when the governor ordered churches and synagogues closed? When he arbitrarily closed businesses? When he told Virginians how many guests they could have in their own homes?

Can anyone recall these crack lawyers who supposedly care deeply about the civil liberties of Americans saying a word of protest when the Democrat governor merrily stomped all over the civil liberties of law-abiding citizens from Virginia Beach to Bristol?

The answer is a resounding NO.

This once bold organization that in 1978 famously defended the right of repulsive neo-Nazis to march through a predominately Jewish neighborhood in Skokie, Illinois to exercise their First Amendment rights, because dammit, the ACLU believed in the U.S. Constitution, sucked its thumb through the most egregious infringements on civil liberties in recent memory.

Have no fear, the ACLU is back! This sleepy organization has crawled out of its bunker and is now fighting to get violent criminals out of Virginia prisons. Continue reading

When the WaPo Admits There’s a Homicide Crisis… There’s a Homicide Crisis.

Graphic credit: Washington Post. Click here to access the WaPo’s interactive feature showing the data for each city.

by James A. Bacon

Delve into the comments on Bacon’s Rebellion, and you will find that the dialogue often collapses due to disagreements over basic facts. One recurring dispute is the degree to which the violent crime rate is increasing, both nationally and here in Virginia. Some see the violent-crime-is-increasing narrative as a right-wing talking point with little grounding in reality… except when we’re talking about mass shootings, in which case the U.S. is the most violent country in the world.

News alert: When The Washington Post acknowledges that violent crime is surging, it can no longer be dismissed as a meme of election deniers, MAGA-hat wearers and other right-wing knuckle draggers. A WaPo story today refers to the spate in violence as “America’s homicide crisis.”

“The rate of killings rose nearly 30 percent in 2020 and remained high through the following year,” said the Post. “Even now, as the bloodshed has slowed, the homicide rate outpaces pre-pandemic levels.” Continue reading

Chesapeake Walmart Tragedy

by Kerry Dougherty

Ask them.

Someone please ask the knee-jerk lefties who joined the Greek Chorus of “we must do more to end gun violence” last week just what “we” — the government, I suppose — could have done to prevent the massacre of six Walmart employees in their Chesapeake break room last Tuesday.

Ask them.

I’ll wait.

An assault weapon ban? Uh, no. That wouldn’t have prevented this. He used a pistol.

One gun a month? Nope. The shooter only bought one gun.

Short of a total ban on firearms, which would have to include confiscation of every weapon in the country, there is no law that would have saved these innocent lives from this homicidal maniac.

That’s the sad, but awful truth. Continue reading

A Grand Compromise on Crime, Mental Health and Guns

by James C. Sherlock

Had enough?

People organize into governments first for their collective protection. Virginians are not sufficiently protected from violence.

The mass shootings of the past couple of weeks in Virginia offer an impetus to strike a grand bargain on public safety.

Staying in corners waiting for control of all three branches of government to turn favored changes into law is a forfeit by public officials of their obligations to society.

For public confidence in the deal and its long term survival, as many as possible of its provisions will need to be packaged as a single compromise with the support of the governor and the leadership of both parties in the General Assembly.

The concepts I offer attempt to mitigate:

  1. The mass killings that we continue to experience, crimes that are committed in significant number by the mentally ill;
  2. The possession or use of deadly weapons in the commission of crimes;
  3. Unacceptable numbers of deaths from fentanyl;
  4. The number of illegal guns and the numbers of legal guns bought illegally;
  5. Gun modifications to increase their rates of fire; and
  6. Transfers of firearms without background checks.

Continue reading

Cause, Effect, and Regret

Photo credit:

by Jim McCarthy

Bacon’s Rebellion recently hosted a series of articles exhaustively parsing the procedures and policies at the University of Virginia regarding threat assessments in preventing violence related to the killing of three students and wounding of two by a colleague. The examination included the possible human failures that contributed to the event. Under state legislation, institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth had been tasked to produce policies and procedures designed to afford safety to campus communities, including intervention somewhat similar to “red flag” laws. The UVa shooter had been previously identified to campus authorities as “possessing” a firearm; upon inspection, a cache of arms was discovered in his dorm room. Cause and effect? Broken procedures and policies? Negligence?

There is no arithmetic or mathematical equation that governs or can predict cause and effect in human behavior. Unlike gravity, laws and rules of society and its organizations are essentially the overt expression of norms of behavior functioning as guides and generally will succeed because they are accepted by most as necessary to civility and peace and safety. When these guardrails fail, the effects can be deadly. Continue reading

Mass Shootings: Take A Breath Before Bloviating

by Kerry Dougherty

On Wednesday morning I woke up at 4:00 a.m., planning to head to the radio studio for four hours of happy holiday banter with my co-host, Mike Imprevento.

Then I glanced at my phone.

A news blast from The Wall Street Journal: “Six Killed in a Shooting in a Chesapeake, Va. Walmart.”

The killing occurred at approximately 10 p.m. Tuesday. That’s what I get for going to bed early.

I rubbed my eyes and stared at the screen. It seemed unbelievable. SIX DEAD? IN CHESAPEAKE?

We met with our producer, Lee, in the studio at 5 and the three of us knew we would be doing a very different sort of show from what we’d planned. Fewer holiday ha-ha’s. Our neighbors were dead and dying. Tidewater would be in shock when they woke up.

When I checked local news, it was exactly as I expected: reporters contacted the usual suspects — local Democrats — and they denounced “gun violence.”

So predictable. As if a gun acted alone. Continue reading

Homelessness in Petersburg – Part 2

Travel Inn was shut down by the ACE team in June. Courtesy Joyce Chu, Progress Index.

by James C. Sherlock

I wrote yesterday about the excellent investigative reporting by the Progress-Index about the knock-on effects of the renewal of fire and building code enforcement in Petersburg.

My position is that Petersburg must enforce its codes for public safety and the livability of the city.

But I also recognize the need to provide better solutions to homelessness in that city. I am pursuing a story on that subject.

But in the meanwhile, the Progress-Index’s Joyce Chu has posted her second article in that series.  I refer to

‘A fresh can of nowhere to go’: Health and stability stumble with fewer motel rooms for those on the edge”

It consists almost exclusively of the stories of those displaced with the closure of those motels.

It is powerful stuff.

Violence Prevention and TATs: A Dissenting Opinion

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

There has been a lot of discussion on this blog  about violence prevention committees and threat assessment teams (TAT). There have been disagreements over whether the University of Virginia is in compliance with state law as well as lamentations about the lack of enforcement where it is considered that an institution is not in compliance with the requirements of state law.

First of all, I am not sure how the requirements would be enforced. The statutes provide no mechanism or provide authority to any agency to enforce them. The statutes themselves are fairly broad and, as has been shown in the discussions on this blog, there are various ways of interpreting those statutes. If push came to shove, I suppose one could go to court and seek a writ of mandamus against a college or university requiring it to rectify some omission or error in its policies regarding its  violence prevention committee or threat assessment team. I am not sure who would have standing to bring such a suit — faculty and students, probably; parents of students, maybe; alumni or interested citizens, probably not. Such a case would likely be expensive for anyone filing suit.

More importantly, I would advocate abolishing the requirement to establish a violence prevention committee and a threat assessment team altogether. It is an overly bureaucratic and inefficient way to deal with the potential for violence on campuses. In addition, the use of TATs can lead to abuse. Continue reading

Norfolk: Where Attorneys Flee and Criminals Go Free

by Kerry Dougherty

Let’s be frank, shall we? Republicans can’t win elections in Norfolk. They don’t even bother recruiting candidates to run in most races.

Why waste the money and effort?

Since 2009 — as far back as I checked- – Norfolk’s Democrat commonwealth attorneys have run unopposed.

While former Norfolk Commonwealth Attorney Gregory Underwood had his problems — a DUI charge that grew out of a sobriety stop and eventually became simply a refusal to submit to a breath test — he was a law and order guy compared to the current occupant of that office, Ramin Fatehi.

We’ve written about Fatehi’s adventures in not doing his job before. Most recently on Nov. 2 when his ineptitude resulted in a man accused of a triple murder walking free.

The case of Antoine M. Legrande Jr. even caught the attention of The Virginian-Pilot, probably because one of its reporters, Sierra Jenkins, was allegedly shot to death by the suspect who is now walking the streets.

A hideous crime and senseless loss of a talented young writer. Jenkins was just 25 when she died in a late-night shooting outside Chicho’s on Granby Street.

Her killer may go unpunished. Continue reading

Virginia Should Enforce Threat Assessment Laws. Noting Lack of Compliance Not Enough.

by James C. Sherlock

I have written about the Threat Assessment Teams (TAT’s) of two state universities, the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.

I assessed Tech to be compliant with state law. I reported that UVa is not. That of course raises the issue of the rest of Virginia’s colleges and universities.

The Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) in 2014, with far more resources and access than I, found the state of the TAT’s serving the commonwealth’s fifteen four-year state institutions of higher learning (IHL), its community colleges and private IHLs to be as a group a hot mess (my term).

I will follow this article with an assessment of the compliance of the current policies of Virginia’s fifteen public IHLs.

The 2014 report did not have the intended effect of standardization and professionalization of threat assessment and intervention in Virginia. Preliminary reviews of the policies of each IHL show them still to be all over the map in terms of compliance.

I am reasonably sure that if DCJS redid its survey tomorrow, it would result in similar findings and recommendations. Perhaps at this point the government should actually enforce the law rather than just reporting on the lack of compliance.

One wishes that had occurred years earlier. Continue reading

Petersburg Resumes Important Actions Against City Code Violators — Homeless Needs Increase

Travel Inn was shut down by the ACE team in June. Courtesy Joyce Chu, Progress Index.

by James C. Sherlock

Sometimes absolutely necessary actions have more than one outcome.

Such is the case in Petersburg.

Joyce Chu of Petersburg’s indispensable Progress- Index last evening initiated a multi-part series on the impacts of the city’s closure due to safety violations of two motels used by otherwise homeless people.

Her first article makes a case for more government and charitable services for the people affected by the closures. Good for her. No one wants people living on the streets and everyone wants the kids in school.

She explains that the California Inn, OYO and Travel Inn motels, among a group of low cost motels right off of I-95, were

also hotbeds of crime, drug overdoses and prostitution mixed in with families with children, according to former residents and homeless advocates.

She points out that Petersburg has resumed (after a lengthy period when it did not) enforcing its zoning codes. A team called the ACE team — Abatement, Compliance, and Enforcement — is on task, run by the Fire Chief.

Code enforcement is an absolutely necessary step to revitalize the city.

So is helping those adversely affected.  -Hotel owners should be forced within the limits of the law to assist. Continue reading

Threat Assessment Done Right — Virginia Tech

by James C. Sherlock

Yesterday I harshly critiqued the structure, authorities and actions of the University of Virginia Threat Assessment Team.

Today, in stark contrast, I offer Virginia Tech. Tech has complied with state law by simply doing what the law requires, and done it thoughtfully.

As a result, Tech has established a far more professional approach and an unbroken case flow from threat assessment to intervention to sanctioning.

Which some commenters have insisted was impossible at Virginia.

Where three young men are dead. Continue reading