Homicides in Richmond Soar – Cleared Homicides Decline

Summary of homicide totals and homicides cleared reported by Richmond police to the FBI 2010 to 2020. Number of 2021 Homicides = 90

by James C. Sherlock

We have seen considerable reporting on violent crime in Richmond, homicides in particular. There is reason for that.

The statistics are appalling and getting worse.

Data from 2010-2020 show that

  • homicides have soared since 2015;
  • clearance rates have plummeted since 2016;
  • 91% of the offenders and 89% of the victims are Black;
  • 85% of them are committed on the streets or sidewalks, residences and parking garages or lots;
  • 8% were committed with automatic weapons;
  • long guns (rifles and shotguns) were almost never identified as involved — 1 rifle, 3 shotguns in 478 homicides. Knives were involved in 25 homicides;
  • Richmond police  report linkages of homicides to another offense less that a quarter of the time, and most of those are linked to aggravated assault and destruction of property. Only nine are linked to robbery. Very few are reported as linked to drugs. Whether that is the fact or a reporting issue is impossible to determine.

There are lots of conclusions that can be drawn from all of the data. Different people will make different interpretations.

My personal biggest concern is the vast gulf starting after 2016 between the numbers of homicides and the numbers cleared. The more that criminals think they can get away with homicides, the more there will be.

So what about 2021? Ninety homicides.

First let’s look at the Commonwealth’s Attorneys in office during the murder spike. Then the police.

Commonwealth’s Attorneys. Mike Herring was Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney for 13 years before he resigned on May 31, 2019 and appointed Colette Wallace McEachin as acting CA until the fall election.

Of Herring, Mayor Stoney said in 2019,

Mike’s keen and progressive legal mind, fairness and commitment to justice, both inside and outside the courtroom, has made Richmond a safer and more equitable place to live.

“Has made Richmond a safer … place to live.”

Mr. Herring’s resume as managing partner of McGuire Woods’ Richmond Office includes:

He helped Richmond police develop strategies to reduce homicides and violent crimes dramatically and implemented groundbreaking criminal justice reforms adopted by other Virginia localities.” (emphasis added).


Ms McEachin was elected Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Richmond in November, 2019. From her official website:

  • OPPOSES the use of cash bonds for most non-violent offenses.

  • Has created the COMMUNITY JUSTICE REFORM UNIT (CJR) to (1) provide evidence-based criminal justice reform policy recommendations to the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office; (2) implement office policies and practices that promote equity, justice and public safety; (3) improve and expand community-based diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration; (4) provide training to prosecutors on issues of criminal justice reform; and (5) expand our engagement with the community.
  • Participates in the JUVENILE JUSTICE COLLABORATIVE (JJC), run by the 13th District Court Service Unit. The purpose of the JJC is to bring stakeholders together to systematically improve the way our city approaches juvenile justice. In partnering with other agencies, this office supports efforts to divert cases stemming from behavior issues in school away from the court, reduce the number of juveniles who are detained, reduce violence among our youth, and provide a trauma-informed response to juveniles and their families.
  • Supports PROGRESSIVE CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS through the use of a range of ALTERNATIVES TO INCARCERATION, community service, and specialized MENTAL HEALTH, BEHAVIORAL HEALTH, AND DRUG COURT DOCKETS designed to avoid incarceration, reduce recidivism, and address mental health and substance abuse needs of persons charged with criminal offenses.
  • Supports RESTORATIVE JUSTICE programs that shift the focus from prosecution and punishment to restoration of relationships between the victim, the offender, and the community.
  • Recognizes that EQUITY demands that each case be assessed on its individual merits, considering the impact that it has on the victim, the offender, and the Richmond community as a whole.
  • Supports the EXPUNGEMENT of eligible charges and allows individuals to personally serve our Office with their expungement petitions in lieu of having to pay a process server to do so. (All of the emphasis and links are present on the website.)

All of that has certainly achieved results. But perhaps not results she will list on her website.

2021 and 2022. By the end of 2021, Richmond Police reported 90 homicides, nearly half again as many as had been reported in any year in the previous decade. The full year 2021 data are not yet in the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system, so the figures I will show below do not include either those 90 homicides or their clearance rate.

Chief Gerald Smith in January of this year said:

The concerning trend officers are seeing is who is committing these acts of violence. Across Richmond, youth are becoming the ones behind these violent crimes increasingly.

However, beyond the individuals responsible, these crimes are also claiming the lives of our youth — like that of Abdul Bani-Ahmad and Rahquan Logan. The two were killed during a quadruple shooting of Nine Mile Road in November.

“We have no idea what kind of contributions this 9-year-old or the 14-year-old would have done or given to the city, given to the world itself,” Smith said. “This was a senseless act of violence.”

Those acts of violence increased within the last three months of 2021. Thirty-three percent of the overall homicides happened in that time frame.

Smith believes it’s tied to one aspect.

“I think a lot of it was our youth, our youth,” he said.

Smith said he’s committed to working with Richmond Public Schools to address this ongoing problem and wants community engagement.

The Richmond Coalition of Police (RCOP) put up billboards at the end of May of this year declaring that “public safety is in a crisis due to poor pay and staffing.” More such billboards have gone up since. That certainly can be a significant part of the crime clearance problem.

WRIC news wrote on June 1:

Richmond City Council recently rejected a $4 million RCOP pay plan but still agreed to an increase in the upcoming budget. The city will also pay for a study to examine how much city first responders should get paid. However, the new billboard shows that RCOP is not satisfied.

82 police officers have separated from the Richmond Police Department between April 2020 and April 2021, according to a spokesperson.

51 officers resigned during that time–a year full of sustained pressure on the department in the wake of protest and riot after the death of George Floyd.

In the January article, Chief Smith defended the quality of his officers, but did not offer an opinion on the number of them. He blamed the violent crime increase on guns being in the wrong hands, pandemic stress, and mistrust in police.

He addressed citizen reluctance to help by saying:

We have to get trust back in to the police again so people can pick up the phone and give us a call.

So, we have officer shortages and citizen unwillingness to help to blame for low clearance rates.

Smith said his department is still working on efforts to “reimagine public safety.”

I think the citizens can reimagine it for him.

Neither the police union nor Chief Smith brought up the Commonwealth Attorney’s progressive criminal justice reform policies. But then payback is hell.

Data 2010 – 2020.  To see what had happened in Richmond homicides before 2021, I went to the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) website to get the data on Richmond homicides over the latest available ten year period, 2010 – 2020.  The FBI’s Crime Data Explorer (CDE) is the digital front door for UCR data. All data presented here are from the City of Richmond Police Department as reported to the FBI.

For homicide location type see here.

For homicide type of weapon and linked offense see here.

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27 responses to “Homicides in Richmond Soar – Cleared Homicides Decline”

  1. WayneS Avatar

    It’s nice of the police chief to blame crime victims for crime in Richmond:

    “We recovered 947 guns last year; over half of them were stolen,” Smith said. “People need to hold onto their property and be responsible for what happens to their property. That is one reason why.”

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      That’s easier than explaining an abysmal clearance rate. There’s only two possible reasons for that; incompetent cops, and/or way, way smarter criminals. The latter is unlikely given Richmond’s SOL scores.

      1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        Not enough cops. Too many criminals on the streets rather than locked up. Witnesses won’t talk. For the reason, see “too many criminals on the streets”.

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          You fell a long way Baby to get where you got to today…

          Updated: Jul. 19, 2018 at 12:50 PM UTC
          RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – A study conducted by the Washington Post showed the Richmond Police Department has the best homicide clearance rate across cities in the United States.

          Out of 429 homicides tracked in the past 10 years in Richmond, 74 percent of them resulted in an arrest while only 26 percent did not.

          The Washington Post reports that Richmond is broken into seven zones with a high homicide and arrest rate, with no zones with a high homicide rate and low arrest rate.

    2. Lefty665 Avatar

      OTOH, recovering around 500 stolen guns, and surely many more were illegal, prevented a lot of gun crimes. The Richmond stats are not all bad.

  2. Thanks for the deep dive into the situation in Richmond.

    Once upon a time, Richmond had one of the highest homicide clearance rates in the country. I blogged about it. holding up Richmond as an example to be emulated. The decline in the clearance rate represents a real departure. It means people are not cooperating.

    What could be responsible? Could the continual barrage of anti-police rhetoric have been a factor? Could the deification of Marcus David Peters, a mentally ill man shot while charging a police officer, have contributed to to the change in attitude?

    Then, of course, there is the change in philosophy guiding prosecutions under Colette McEachin, as you have highlighted here. That’s how rhetoric plays out as real-world actions.

    Then, of course, there’s the chronic shortage of police. Richmond police are severely understaffed. They can’t do their jobs properly. And why would that be? I’ll get into the issue of police staffing in a future post.

    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Falling SOLs?

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      See Ms. McEachin’s Criminal Justice Reform Unit page.

      Seriously, everyone should. https://www.rva.gov/index.php/commonwealths-attorney/community-justice-reform

      Part of it:

      “The Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office has been a leader in the progressive criminal justice reform movement for over twenty years. Progressive criminal justice reform includes acknowledging historical racial inequities, addressing the root causes of criminal conduct, and supporting diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration where appropriate.”

      Great work so far.

    3. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      See Ms. McEachin’s Criminal Justice Reform Unit page.

      Seriously, everyone should. https://www.rva.gov/index.php/commonwealths-attorney/community-justice-reform

      Part of it:

      “The Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office has been a leader in the progressive criminal justice reform movement for over twenty years. Progressive criminal justice reform includes acknowledging historical racial inequities, addressing the root causes of criminal conduct, and supporting diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration where appropriate.”

      Great work so far.

  3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I am having trouble discerning the point of this post, other than the number of homicides in Richmond is up, which is well known. If we are talking about clearance, there needs to be focus on that . For example, when is a case cleared, upon arrest or upon conviction? If it is upon conviction, where is the fault–incompetence or reluctance of the prosecutor or sloppy police work? Then there is the obligatory attack on the prosecutor’s social justice approach, with a vague allusion, but with no hard proof or reasoning, that it is at the root of the problem. Rather than attack her program, why not look at her record? Of those persons arrested and tried for homicide, how many were found guilty and what was the median sentence?

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      “obligatory attack” You project too far, Dick. I clearly spoke to multiple sources of the rise in homicides. You would be denying that the sun rises in the east to claim that a permissive prosecution philosophy is not part of it.

      1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        Just because two phenomena exist together does not prove causation. Folks used to use the fact of the sun rising in the east as proof that the Earth is the center of the universe.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          indeed, that’s the basic MO for JAB and Sherlock when it comes to this stuff.

          Is there actually ANY credible research to actually back it up?

          Does anyone believe that the young and dumb who engage in gun play and street violence check to see what the clearance rate and prosecutorial philosophy is before they do?

    2. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Clearance is when the police determine who they think is the perpetrator. The result of a “not guily” in court is a closed case no matter how blantantly “not guilty” the defendant is. (With good reason. The best defense for subsequent prosecution is the first prosecution)

      Not being snarky, but why would the cops continue to investigate once they have convinced themselves of whodunit? (Often determined within minutes of starting the investion)

      Sadly, the best public review of murder investigations is through shows like Dateline, 60 Minutes, and 20/20, shows that do investigative reporting. In addition, there are highly biased cop shows, e.g., The First 48, which show murders (selected) and require the cooperation of the particular PDs. These guys look like gods, which is of course, the intent.

      Given how cops actually work, the death penalty is truly a random ritual perpetrated on an enthusiastic public.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    It is a long way to go until the first frost and daylight savings. November 6th. Shorter days and colder weather help to moderate this sort of nonsense.

    1. James McCarthy Avatar
      James McCarthy

      Self-convincing articles and self-congratulatory comments will decline in November? PTL

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead

        PTL. Amen!

  5. WayneS Avatar

    By the end of 2021, Richmond Police reported 90 homicides, the highest number by far ever recorded in Richmond.

    FYI – In 1994 there were 161 homicides in Richmond, Virginia, and the number was 100 or more every year from 1988 to 1997.

    2021 may have seen the highest number this century, but certainly not the highest number ever.


    It should also be noted that in 1994 their were 15K -20K fewer people living in the city of Richmond than there are now.

    1. walter smith Avatar
      walter smith

      So…nothing to worry about? All good?
      I was on a federal grand jury in downtown – 1990ish? – drugs were most of the killings, and it was bad. Has anything changed that much?
      Criminals commit crimes. Including gun crimes. But why the trend up? Certainly couldn’t have anything to do with bonehead defund the police, could it?

      1. I lived in Church Hill (north of Broad) during the crack epidemic. There was a triple murder in a crack house on my block and a triple shooting that took place on the grounds of the elementary school one block down the street. Most of the violence was related to drugs.

        My sense is that we’re looking at a different dynamic. As J.S. points out, the killers are getting younger and younger. Many shootings are the result of personal arguments that (apparently) have nothing to do with drugs. I think we’re seeing what happens when an entire generation of youth is under-socialized. Lord of the Flies (with guns) rules apply.

        1. walter smith Avatar
          walter smith

          But don’t mention it has ANYTHING to do with not living with 2 biological parents!
          Does that make you racist? Or a bigot? Or both?

      2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        Bonehead “let criminals out of custody almost immediately to go out an even scores”.

    2. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      You beat me to the drawing board. I changed that in my immediate review. See above.

  6. Piedmont Avatar

    McEachin was part of Herring’s entire time in office. Their policies and most off their staff are essentially the same, with the only major change coming from a retirement and the string of promotions that allowed. The new policies seem to mostly affect marginal cases – murderers and rapists aren’t being coddled.

    From speaking with people who have recently done jury duty in Richmond, the problems they’ve identified have been weak evidence and other jurors who aren’t willing to convict.

    Weak cases are sometimes the result of ineffective prosecutors or bad police work, but are much more commonly due to a lack of a superabundance of compelling evidence. Not every crime is caught on video, DNA is rarely available or even useful in most cases, witnesses are intimidated or unreliable, and so on. Judges and juries make final decisions regardless of what lawyers say or do. The police seem understaffed and have had experienced detectives go elsewhere. I don’t know how much of this is due to funding, to misplaced priorities, and/or other factors, but I don’t see much connection to “woke” programs by McEachin.

  7. “91% of the offenders and 89% of the victims are Black”
    Damn those black white supremacists – I hope Garland and his DOJ is taking swift action to counter what he has said is this country’s greatest threat.

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