‘Gangbusters’ bill put NN police chief in a spot

Gangbusters’ bill put NN police chief in a spot
David Lerman
Capitol Notebook

April 24 2005

WASHINGTON — A dispute between two Hampton Roads congressmen over a bill to crack down on gang violence caught Newport News Police Chief James Fox in the political crossfire.

Fox had sent a letter to the bill’s sponsor – Virginia Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake – calling attention to the problem of gangs in Newport News and seeking assistance with local funding.

“I appreciate your shared concern in this serious issue,” Fox wrote to Forbes, urging the congressman to contact him “should I be able to assist you in any manner in moving this important piece of legislation forward.”

Forbes cited the letter publicly last week as he fought for passage of his “gangbusters” bill in the House Judiciary Committee, where it passed on a party-line vote. The bill authorizes money for more federal prosecutors and technology while creating new mandatory minimum sentences for gang-related crimes, among other things.

But the letter appeared to rattle Fox’s hometown congressman, Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-Newport News, the leading opponent of Forbes’ bill on the committee.

Scott said he had spoken with Fox and did not believe the police chief was supporting Forbes’ bill. Scott quickly fired off a two-page letter to Fox outlining his concerns with the bill, while claiming there is little if any money that would be made available for local law enforcement.

In an interview Friday, Fox said he never meant to imply that he was supporting the gangs bill.

“I don’t know all the details of the bill,” he said. “The reason I wrote that letter wasn’t necessarily to support the bill, but to make our representatives aware we have a gang problem. I just wanted them to know we need help.”

Forbes said he never solicited a letter from Fox and had not spoken with him. “I think it’s unfortunate they’re putting political pressure on the police chief,” Forbes said. “I haven’t made this a political hot potato and I’m not going to do it.”

Both Scott and Forbes have insisted their differences on the bill are not personal and that they continue to work well together on other local issues.

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