By Susan Larson
Everyone around the table agreed. Collaboration is the key to solving crimes.
Attorney General of Virginia Mark R. Herring was in Fredericksburg March 18 as part of his statewide tour to meet with local public safety, law enforcement and elected officials.
"My office's resources need to be deployed in sync with the top priorities I hear from those who are on the front lines in law enforcement everyday," Herring told those seated around a table in the conference room at the Fredericksburg Police Department.
"What are your main public safety threats, what are some of the emerging problems that you see coming up, how have we worked well together in the past, and what is it I can do as attorney general or our office can do to help you meet the challenges you face everyday," Herring asked those assembled. "I'm interested in knowing where you see the problems, and also programs you think are working well and serving the community well."
"I'd like to commend your financial crimes unit and I hope that will remain strong," said Spotsylvania County Commonwealth's Attorney William Neely. "Over the past decade or more we investigated and made a lot of big cases -- money laundering cases, drug asset forfeiture cases -- using the financial crimes unit." As an example, Neely referred to the recent arrest of Dorothy Anne Beach, who used the identities of at least 40 inmates and relatives to file fraudulent tax returns, illegally collecting more than $300,000.
"Following the money is the key to getting the bigger criminals, and we could not do that without the financial crimes unit," Neely said.
Fredericksburg Police Chief David Nye serves as co-chair of LInX (Law Enforcement Information Exchange) National Capital Region. "It's like the Google for law enforcement," Nye said. The LInX system enables law enforcement agencies across the country to access each other's reports.
The program is largely funded through grants and NCIS, but those monies are set to be reduced in coming years. "We're hoping sometime down the road the state would have the solution," Nye told the attorney general.
Commonwealth's Attorney Neely agreed. "Our principal crimes here are property crimes," he said. "Sixty percent of our population either commute to work in Washington or Richmond, leaving their homes vacant during the day." This leaves homes and cars ripe for burglaries and thefts. "The LInX program solves a lot of crimes by giving us pawn shop information."
"We just solved a homicide with LInX, because a pawn shop in Charlottesville had taken in a gun that was a murder weapon," Virginia State Police Fredericksburg Area Commander and 1st Sgt. Keith Hairston said. George Elwood Crenshaw, 45, was charged in February with first-degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony in the shooting death of Mickey Wayne Jones at Attkisson Truck & Equipment Sales in December 2013.
The group asked for tighter gold shop standards. Gold and jewelry smelters can melt what they've purchased in just ten days, and this is not enough time for law enforcement to trace stolen property. The group suggested the law be changed to require these places to hold the jewelry at least 30 days, require a photo ID from sellers and take photos of the jewelry.
Resources for mental health are underfunded in the region, as they are statewide, the group agreed. "Virginia does criminal justice on the cheap," said Neely. "They do mental health on the cheap, too. As long as we do things on the cheap, we're going to continue having problems."
Herring has scheduled 22 regional meetings statewide as he begins his tenure in the attorney general's office. The meetings are part of a bigger plan.
"I have several things going on at the same time. I have a group looking at ways to streamline some of our operations to make them more efficient, more transparent; and make sure the office is running as efficiently as the state's law firm should."
"We're doing a top to bottom review of all the programs and services we're a part of and also looking at what resources we have available to serve those."
"After I listen to local law enforcement and prosecutors, I'll go back and match that up with our assessment of what we're doing and ways we're serving the community, looking to make sure our resources are deployed in a way that fits with the priorities of the communities around the state."
Those who attended the meeting with Attorney General Herring were:
Fredericksburg Mayor Mary Katherine Greenlaw
Fredericksburg Police Chief David Nye
Fredericksburg Sheriff Paul Higgs
Fredericksburg Commonwealth's Attorney La Bravia Jenkins
Spotsylvania Commonwealth's Attorney William Neely
Spotsylvania Sheriff's Office Major Don Thodos
Virginia State Police Capt. Todd Tyler
Virginia State Police Fredericksburg Area Captain/1st Sgt. Keith Hairston