UPDATE: Roanoke officials, police continue to combat gun violence; name new Youth and Gang Violence Prevention Coordinator

Roanoke Valley News

UPDATE 10 p.m.: On Thursday afternoon, members of the Roanoke Gun Violence Prevention Commission announced the new Youth and Gang Violence Prevention Coordinator, Christopher Roberts, saying he was chosen out of 24 applicants.

According to Chief Strategy Officer Angela O’Brien and Councilman Joe Cobb, Roberts comes to the City of Roanoke with an extensive background in working with youth and families.

“He has worked with the Roanoke Valley Juvenile Detention Center, Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, Hope Tree Family Services Cottage, and he is also a member of the Virginia Gang Investigators Association,” said O’Brien.

O’Brien says Roberts will be working alongside community partners and agencies to help complete a youth and gang violence community assessment.

Cobb says transitioning Roberts into the position will be smooth because he is already a part of the community.

“He is already well invested in our community. He believes in our city, he believes in our youth, he believes in our youth’s family,” said Cobb. “So much of his role is about helping people connect the dots.”

According to Cobb, the Roanoke Gun Violence Prevention Commission members are all invested in their community. However, by adding Roberts to the head of the table, more change and action will occur.

“These positions are for people who are going to be out in the community, engages with our youth, their families, and community partners,” Cobb said. “They are going to be visible.”


ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Since early August, Roanoke has seen about a dozen acts of gun violence, including three homicides. However, both city and law enforcement leaders are continuing to act upon Roanoke’s Comprehensive Gun Violence Prevention Framework while trying to help protect the community.

You can read the full statement released by the City of Roanoke on Thursday, Sept. 16 below:

The City of Roanoke continues acting upon its Comprehensive Gun Violence Prevention Framework, which focuses on the community as a whole in partnering with law enforcement, prevention, intervention, and justice. As a follow-up to the City’s press conference held in early August and acknowledging that there has not yet been the reduction in gun violence, the City continues to enhance prevention and safety strategies by working with the community to support the work of law enforcement and the RESET Team; the progress of the Gun Violence Prevention Commission; the addition of the first-ever Youth and Gang Violence Prevention Coordinator; and the Star City Safe initiative.

Law Enforcement: The Roanoke Police Department, in partnership with the U.S. Marshals Capital Area Regional Fugitive Task Force (CARFTF), conducted an operation to serve 331 warrants, with a specific emphasis on apprehending those who are creating harm in our community. Additionally, this operation removed 26 illegally possessed firearms, certain amounts of fentanyl, and a host of other recreational drugs. Lastly, Roanoke Police seized $40,000 in U.S. currency while working the operation. Since the August press conference, there have also been 12 additional acts of violence related to gun violence, resulting in nine additional aggravated assaults and three additional homicides. The recent acts of violence continue to be perpetrated by a small group of people in our community. In addition, the hire of the Rapid Engagement of Support in the Event of Trauma (RESET) Coordinator, Lloyd Merchant, in the Roanoke Police Department was a key step identified by the former Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, which has resulted in the oversight of organizing and recruiting volunteers to visit neighborhoods after the areas have experienced traumatic events.

Gun Violence Prevention Commission: In early summer, the Gun Violence Prevention Commission, awarded $65,000 in mini-grants to 17 local nonprofit and faith-based organizations for prevention and intervention of gun violence in our community. The mini-grants supported local prevention and intervention programs designed to lift youth voices and experiences, create new opportunities for educational growth and entrepreneurship, and address ways to reduce violence in our community. The recipients of the Gun Violence Commission mini-grants have completed their work and a summary of their efforts will be presented to the Commission and to City Council in October.

Personnel Focused on Youth and Gang Violence: In partnering with the Gun Violence Prevention Commission, the City has selected a Youth and Gang Violence Prevention Coordinator — a new, two-year position — made possible through a $500,000 Virginia Gun Violence Intervention Program grant awarded to the City in July. The role will coordinate activities and programs between the City departments, community groups, stakeholders, and agencies in the awareness, prevention, intervention and suppression of youth and gang-related activity. In addition, the coordinator will assist the Gun Violence Prevention Commission in implementing a comprehensive Youth and Gang Violence Community assessment, also made possible by a state grant.

Star City Safe: In engaging with citizens in the community and local community organizations, the City will launch Star City Safe, an initiative focused on expanded services and access to public facilities to keep our youth and neighborhoods safe, as well as in a variety of in-person and virtual formats to keep a two-way dialogue going.

“We recognize that our work must continue while we focus firsthand on keeping our local communities safe. The Roanoke Police Department continues to address the increase in violent crimes. RPD, along with our community, state, and federal partners, will use every means available to specifically focus on those individuals who choose to engage in acts of violence or organized crime, and we will continue to do everything we can to interrupt the gun violence that plagues the City of Roanoke,” said Chief Sam Roman.

“To reduce gun violence in our City, we need everyone—our business community, our nonprofits, our neighborhood groups, our citizens—to work together,” says City Council Member Joe Cobb. “Having a Comprehensive Gun Violence Prevention Framework will help us more fully engage the entire community and take our response to the next level.”

Commenting on the recent cases and local events, Mayor Lea urges the community to remain united in working together to prevent gun violence in Roanoke, as the City continues its comprehensive strategy in working toward preventative measures across City leadership and community outreach efforts. “We are optimistic that our actions are going to have a positive impact on reducing gun violence in our community, and we will keep working to that end,” says Mayor Sherman Lea. 

Statement from the City of Roanoke

Roanoke city officials also announced on Thursday the selection of Christopher Roberts as the Youth and Gang Violence Prevention Coordinator, a two-year grant position that is funded by the $500,000 Virginia Gun Violence Intervention Program Grant awarded to the city in July.

According to Thursday’s statement, Roberts will coordinate activities and programs between the city departments, community groups, stakeholders, and agencies in the awareness, suppression, intervention and prevention of youth and gang-related activity. He will also establish and maintain partnerships with appropriate community groups and agencies, assist with data collection, compile information on a comprehensive Youth and Gang Violence Community assessment report, identify community resources available to assist with implementation of projects, and develop public awareness through documents and publicity materials.

“The addition of Christopher Roberts as our Youth and Gang Violence Prevention Coordinator is a vital component of the City’s multi-faceted response to address gun violence,” said City Manager Bob Cowell. “His experience and skills will be an asset to this important initiative as we work to restore order in our City.”

The City of Roanoke says that Roberts has extensive experience in coaching, advising, counseling, and collaborating with youth, families, and community stakeholders to support at-risk youth. His professional background reportedly includes service at the Roanoke Valley Juvenile Detention Center, Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, Hope Tree Family Services Cottage, as a member of the Virginia Gang Investigators Associations, and as a board member of the Kirk Family YMCA.

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