The City of Richmond’s Task Force To Reimagine Public Safety released its final report on Monday, after three months of meetings. The task force issued several recommendations focused on using community resources more and law enforcement less. Those recommendations include a new 911 system to triage non-criminal calls away from law enforcement and reducing police funding to send more resources to other agencies. However, Mayor Levar Stoney is not implementing the policies exactly as recommended.
“I don’t believe in defunding the police. I believe we have to fund the change, fund the reforms as well,” Stoney said at a press conference, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch.“Some of those reforms will live in other agencies and other organizations that can support bringing about a human services lens to public safety. That’s what I think we need to do.”
One of the recommendations of the task force was to restructure 911 services. “911 should remain the number called by residents, but non-criminal calls should be triaged to a non-police, human services-centric response system,” states the report. The report lists potential non-criminal calls including barking dogs, misbehaving children, loud music, accidents on private property, and welfare checks.
Another recommendation calls for the police to “Humanize Use of Force Policies.” The task force found that Richmond’s use-of-force policies meet national standards, but implementing the policies is often left to the judgement of individual officers. The task force recommends changing the policies to emphasize deescalation. The task force said new policy should require officers to intervene when other officers, including supervisors, are behaving unethically.
The report largely focuses on improving community involvement and using non-police city responses where possible. The task force suggests training both city employees and the public to rethink how they view problems and needs for service.
Fraternal Order of Police of Virginia President John Ohrnberger told The Virginia Star that he hoped the city would increase police funding. He said, “I do not understand how evaluating and re-directing of 911 calls to another type of call center will not slow down response time in the city of Richmond. Domestic violence calls are the most complex and dangerous calls law enforcement responds to. I would hope the city council evaluates these recommendations and uses sound judgement in implementing such changes.”
“Some of them will need to be evaluated and some will be actionable ASAP,” Stoney said, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch. “I think we owe it to those who worked on this plan to be thorough in our review of the recommendations.”
In a letter introducing the report, Stoney said he convened the task force as a response to the summer’s “racial reckoning.”
Stoney and the city’s law enforcement struggled in their response to the protests and riots in Richmond over the summer. Rioters burned and looted local property, and police officers teargassed protestors before the 8 p.m. curfew began, according to city press releases and a police Twitter account.
Council members complained about the response. Some cited heavy-handed police tactics while others cited a lack of police response.
“People in my district and throughout the City have asked me repeatedly for three weeks why there is no end to the violence in their neighborhoods. The looting, fires and roadblocks need to stop immediately,” Council member Kim Gray said, according to NBC12.
“There has to be another way to deescalate a situation so that innocents are not impacted by something as impactful as tear gas, chemical irritants and flashbangs,” Council member Michael Jones said, according to NBC12.
Stoney forced then-Chief of Police William Smith to resign, according to WWBT. Protestors booed the Mayor, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Eventually, Stoney used emergency powers to remove the city’s Confederate monuments, which earned him national attention and may have saved his bid for re-election. However, his removal of the monuments has been marred by an investigation into a potential conflict of interest over a $1.8 million contract allegedly given to one of Stoney’s political donors. Additionally, the city’s murder rate rose over the summer.
“I’m mindful and appreciative of the emphasis the task force placed on equity and restorative justice throughout the process. The report is firmly rooted both in those shared values and an acknowledgement of the difficulty of changemaking on a large, permanent scale,” Stoney said in a press release.
In the press release, Chief of Police Gerald Smith said the Richmond police department wants to be better, although he highlighted the department’s strong performance on accountability and consistency.
“Our recent Advanced GOLD Standard Reaccreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies proves Richmond Police is very good when it comes to consistent policies and management practices and provides accountability through checks and balances on all levels of the agency,” Smith said.
He added, “However, the input of the task force, the voice of the community, is vital to ensure that our work is implemented in the way our community needs and expects.”
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