On a bright fall afternoon, Officer Jason Hensley was on patrol, riding through Harrisonburg in an unmarked cruiser with a trainee officer at the wheel. Hensley had rolled down the passenger side window to take in the cool breeze and casually draped his arm against the outside of the door. The car had just passed a wooded area when Hensley heard a sharp crack.
“This is an exercise,” Stephanie Harris told the crowd about to take part in a Monday morning training exercise with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. Around her were about 160 volunteer “victims” of a simulated gas explosion at JMU’s Bridgeforth Stadium, along with dozens of rescue and security personnel that would be responding to the disaster.
Pierre Mbala and two friends were headed to get pizza on an overcast, chilly Thursday in late March, 2018. On the way, they stopped at a convenience store for a soda or maybe some candy, and to taste the freedom that comes with being 17.
Harrisonburg police officers on Wednesday plan to mingle with residents in the neighborhood surrounding the Salvation Army Emergency Shelter on Jefferson Street off of North Main Street in what will be the police department’s first “community walk” event of 2019. But some organizations in the area approached the community walk idea cautiously.
While the local jail population continues to grow, the record-keeping systems used by law enforcement, the courts and other pieces of the local criminal justice system remain stuck in the past, complicating efforts to understand what’s driving that population growth or to begin addressing it. Within a year, however, new insight into local criminal justice trends could be coming from two different sources.