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.