Richmond’s violent crime rate lowest in 45 years

Mayor Dwight C. Jones said at a press conference that the rate of violent crime in the city dropped to its lowest level in 45 years.

The rate decreased by 30 percent since 2009 and 12 percent since 2014. It’s also the largest year-to-year crime reduction rate in the past seven years.

A significant drop in Richmond’s homicide numbers began in 2006 when former Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus began his term in office. Jones attributed the dip in violent crime to initiatives the Richmond Police Department implemented in recent years.

In 2005, the department began the Fugitives and Firearms Initiative (FFI), an annual effort which ran from May to August to target wanted persons and illegal guns. When current Police Chief Alfred Durham took office in 2015, he launched an additional round of FFI that ran from November to December.
According to the police department, the FFI has recovered roughly 240 firearms since its inception. In total, 802 illegal firearms were recovered in 2015 by additional efforts of officers and detectives, an increase from 2014.

Richmond Police and its partners from the Virginia State Police and the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority Police have also focused their efforts in the city’s East End and Northside.

There was an 80 percent reduction in aggravated assaults involving firearms in the city’s Northside. The city’s East End experienced the same number of aggravated assaults, two, compared to the same FFI period last year.

This year, FFI will be back, along with another initiative called Guns 2 5-0, an anonymous way for people to inform the police about illegal guns on the street.
“Guns 2 5-0 — 5-0 being the police, youngsters say — that is a safe and anonymous way for people to inform police and take dangerous weapons on the streets,” Jones said.

Chief Durham said the most valuable strategy the police has is the trust of the community. When he took over the role as chief, Durham implemented five focus areas to have a successful police force.

The five areas include customer care, the morale of the men and women of the police department, safeguarding the community, technology and youth engagement.

“(The community has) been working with us and I think that’s why we’ve had our success in reducing crime,” Durham said. “We’re apprehending criminals; that means the majority of these folks are not out here committing or reoffending folks in the community.”

Last year, 28 of 39 homicides were closed. Chief Durham credits the high success rate to the result of civilians coming forward with information early on in the investigation.

VCU Police Chief John Venuti, who spent 26 and a half years with Richmond Police, agrees that transparency between the department and the community is a major component to enforcing the law.

VCU PD was one of the first police units in the Richmond metropolitan to require officers to wear body cameras when it made the addition in Jan. 2015.
Prior to the implementation of body cameras on its officers, VCU PD had already reduced use of force by 81 percent. In the 2009-10 academic year, the department had 74 incidents of force used by an officer; in 2014, there were 14. Complaints were reduced by more than 60 percent over the last five years.

“We didn’t (implement body cameras) to reduce force because we already did it,” Venuti said. “We didn’t do it to reduce complaints because we already did that. We did it to increase the level of transparency in the VCU community.”

A recent survey asked students, faculty and staff about safety on campus. 96.4 percent of participants responded with very safe or safe.

“Here at VCU, we’ve got the community on board and everyone knows that safety is everyone’s job and everyone’s responsibility,” Venuti said. “If there wasn’t a high level of trust and transparency between the VCU police and the community, do you think that number would be 96.4?”

Durham said the large drop in crime can be highly accredited to the relationship between the community and the new technology being used throughout city departments.

“We have a partnership with our community and I think our officers really want to do the best that we can,” Durham said. “Accountability leads to transparency and transparency leads to legitimacy and credibility out where we serve.”

Staff Writer, Sophia Belletti

Sophia Belletti, Photo by Brooke MarshSophia is a sophomore print/online journalism major with a minor in gender, sexuality and women’s studies. She enjoys writing about current events and sports and hopes to one day be a sports reporter, covering soccer, basketball and baseball. You can usually find Sophia drinking way too much coffee and laughing at her own jokes.
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