As summer vacation season got started at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront this year, there seemed to be one report after another about shootings in the area.
The first came just days after Memorial Day weekend — on May 31 — when one person was wounded in a shooting near the intersection of Pacific Avenue and 20th Street.
Then, between June 8 and June 22, police reported four more shootings in the resort area. Nine people were wounded and one was killed.
Social media was soon filled with complaints from nearby residents who said they’d repeatedly been woken by gunshots. Business and restaurant owners expressed concern for their workers’ safety, especially since many of them had to walk multiple blocks to their cars at night. Some businesses even considered closing early.
The Virginian-Pilot analyzed the police department’s crime statistics to determine whether crime at the Oceanfront is spiraling out of control — as some residents fear — or whether the rash of shootings was an aberration.
According to the crime data, it’s more of the latter. There was a significant spike in shootings this summer compared with the summer of 2019, with most of them occurring in a three-week stretch at the beginning of the season.
But as the summer wore on, the violence tapered off, police statistics show. One shooting was reported in July during the Fourth of July holiday weekend and one in late August, with a total of three people injured. There haven’t been any shootings in the resort area since then.
“The increase (in crime) is mostly attributable to the period following the civil disturbances,” Virginia Beach Police Deputy Chief Bill Dean said in reference to a large protest sponsored by Black Lives Matter 757 at the Oceanfront on May 31 that ended with vandals breaking storefront windows and police dispersing teargas.
In the weeks that followed, large crowds often gathered at the Oceanfront, mostly along Atlantic Avenue. Nine of the 13 people shot between June and August were wounded in June, Dean said.
Police department statistics show that aggravated assaults — which typically include crimes such as shootings, stabbings and serious beatings — spiked 75 percent when comparing this summer at the Oceanfront with last year. There were 21 reported aggravated assaults this summer; 12 in 2019.
Property crime in the resort area also was up this year, which police also attribute to the civil unrest. The biggest increase was in burglaries, more than double what was reported last year. Dean said most of that was related to the protest when stores were broken into. Although it began the night of May 31, much of the break-ins occurred in the early morning hours of June 1 or were not reported until that day.
Aside from aggravated assaults, other categories of violent crimes were virtually identical when comparing the two summers. The number of rapes and robberies remained the same, with two rapes and eight robberies reported both years. There were no homicides in the summer 2019, compared to the one this past summer.
Jeff Hague, who runs Ocean Eddy’s Seafood Restaurant with his wife, Debbie, agreed that most of the trouble at the Oceanfront this summer seemed to happen at the beginning of the season.
He told a reporter for The Pilot in June that “everyone seemed to be on edge.” He even considered closing the restaurant early to help his employees get to their cars safely.
“Things seem to have settled down,” Hague said last week. “At the height of all of this, the Boardwalk and Atlantic Avenue seemed kind of tense. But I feel like we’ve gotten past that now.”
Much of the negative attention police officers have been receiving along Atlantic Avenue also started to decrease as the season wore on, Dean said.
In addition to verbal abuse, officers were sometimes shoved by people on the street as they responded to incidents or made arrests, he said.
“The officers used outstanding discretion and judgment throughout the summer in trying to resolve matters peacefully,” the deputy chief said. “It’s been a very non-traditional summer for us. We’ve had to adapt to a lot of things like COVID and the protests, and I think our officers have done an outstanding job.”
Jane Harper, 757-222-5097, [email protected]
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