Roanoke police chief, mayor address recent protests


ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR)– Roanoke City leaders hosted a virtual news conference Wednesday at 3 p.m. to address coronavirus updates, recent protests and plans moving forward.

Previous misinformation regarding the total number of coronavirus tests performed for the Roanoke Health District was immediately corrected by City Manager Bob Cowell, noting that well over 8,4000 tests have been performed in the district and Roanoke’s rank change from last to 15th in Virginia for testing encounters.

Cowell also stated that enhanced targeted testing provided by the local health district will begin Wednesday, with a focus on the highest, at-risk populations. 

Roanoke has received its 8.65 million dollars in Cares Act funding. The Congressional approval of this funding, however, came with strict contingencies as to how it can be spent, forcing city leaders to get creative with their community-rebuilding efforts. 

The Roanoke City Council approved the Star City Strong Recovery Task Force Monday. Chaired by Mayor Sherman Lea and Vice Mayor Joe Cobb, the task force will be composed of a diverse group of community stakeholders with service opportunities for citizens by application.

In response to Gov. Ralph Northam’s announcement of Phase II beginning on Friday, Cowell notes that Monday will mark the reopenings of the Treasurer’s Office and the Commissioner of Revenue’s office for transactions other than DMV, which will follow shortly. 

Cowell attributes the rise in the number of cases in the Roanoke area to outbreaks, specifically linked to skilled nursing facilities.

“The feeling here from our local department officials is as long as we’re able to manage those outbreaks- and that you don’t see a broader spread of cases through the general population- then we’re able to accommodate moving into those next phases,” Cowell said. 

Addressing the recent events taking place across the nation and state, Mayor Lea urges his citizens to not lose their sense of community not the meaning behind these acts in the outrage or

“Let me say the brutality that we observed in Minneapolis is unacceptable and never will be a part of what is acceptable in policing here in Roanoke, Virginia.”

Roanoke Police Chief Sam Roman followed the mayor’s statement, declaring that Roanoke law enforcement in no way endorses the actions taken by police in Minneapolis. He then enumerated actions the Roanoke Police Department plans to implement to ensure an event such as the one in Minneapolis will not take place in Roanoke.

“There are several forums to ensure that we are doing everything that we can to ensure that this does not happen in the very professional organization of the Roanoke City Police,” Roman said. “That includes new streams of training, our emotion, our hiring and many other avenues in which we try to take- most of which, of all I’ve mentioned, is partnering with our community.”  

Roman emphasizes the department’s desire for community partnership to be “at the forefront of everything we do,” mentioning their future initiatives to make citizens part of the officer hiring process. 

Vice Mayor Joe Cobb furthers the conversation by acknowledging the peaceful advocacy performed by protesters spanning several generations as a sign of hope as well as the challenge to overcome in fighting the same fight.

“We can’t necessarily end racism across the country, but we can and must do our part to end racism here in Roanoke,” Cobb said. “We want our city government and our city commissions, boards and agencies to reflect the very rich and beautiful diversity of our city.” 

Cobb adds that council members will acknowledge their shared pain and support for George Floyd and his family officially with a note of sympathy for the Floyd family.

Lea concludes: “I will continue to work alongside our new police chief, our city manager and our city council to ensure that we have a police department that serves and protects our you and that you live in a city that helps you succeed no matter where you live or the color of your skin.”

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