Stoney continues search for police chief

Photo by Jon Mirador

Fadel Allassan, News Editor

After a month of town halls in February to gauge public opinion, the ball is now in Mayor Levar Stoney’s court in his search for a Richmond police chief.

At four community meetings in each of the city’s precincts, residents touted the qualities they want in their next police chief. The city’s human resources department enlisted Derius Swinton of the Soar Group, a local professional development business, to facilitate discussions.

One resident at a Feb. 21 town hall at First Baptist Church said the new hire should not discriminate or show favoritism toward any individuals or groups. They should also show openness and a willingness to compromise, said another.

“The officers in a certain community should reflect the diversity of that community — specifically of their districts,” said one person. “I think they would be more effective.”

Residents said other traits like dignity, respect and good temperament would be important for the new chief.

“Community engagement is one of the core functions of effective policing in our city,” Stoney said in a news release before the meetings took place. “We are going to conduct a national search, but we are going to listen to our residents and prioritize the input we receive in the community.”

The process began in November when the former head of the police department, 55-year-old Alfred Durham, announced he would step down at the end of 2018 to spend time with his family. Durham spent four years in the position.

For years, Richmond was marred by its reputation as a hotbed for violent crime and homicide. In 1994, it was the second-deadliest city in the nation, with 77.2 killings per 100,000 people according to FBI Uniform Crime Reporting statistics. In 1997, when Richmond was the deadliest U.S. city, that number stood at 67.2 per 100,000.

The crime rate has generally been lower than it was in those years.

The city’s high homicide clearance rate is another positive. A 2018 Washington Post report found that Richmond solves murder cases at the highest rate of any city in the country. Only 26 percent of the 429 murder cases in the last 10 years in the city went unsolved.

Among the matters on the new police chief’s desk when he or she takes over will be the city police department’s relationship with VCU’s campus police. In January, City Council approved a measure to nearly double the jurisdiction of the VCU Police Department into parts of Richmond outside campus.

The two departments have shared jurisdiction for more than 30 years. VCUPD Chief John Venuti, who has led the department since 2010, said his department routinely shares information, technology and resources with its city counterparts.

“This collaboration has helped us keep VCU’s students, faculty, staff, patients and guests safe. In turn, as the city’s largest law enforcement partner, we’ve helped keep downtown Richmond safe for residents, business owners and visitors,” Venuti said in a statement. “This has been a strong partnership and I fully expect our collaborative work to continue.”

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