Stoney Proposes Overhaul of Richmond Policing

Photo credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch

by James A. Bacon

The Richmond Police Department received more than 80,000 calls for service in the first five months of 2020, writes Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney an a Richmond Times-Dispatch op-ed. Police respond to every type of crisis, from homelessness to mental health to substance abuse.

“We need officers to respond to violent and criminal acts,” Stoney says. “We cannot expect our police officers to serve as social workers, psychologists, child trauma experts and mental health workers, responding to every noncriminal call for service because America hasn’t properly prioritized other service providers. It does not make our country, or our city safer.”

Now it’s time to “reimagine” public safety, he says. Accordingly, he has created a Task Force on Reimagining Public Safety to come up with actionable steps within 90 days. Measures might include reallocating police funding to allow social workers to respond to non-violent calls, creating a Civilian Review Board to hold officers accountable for misconduct, and using evidence-based policies and practices.

I’m not convinced that the Richmond Police Department is broken. There have been few instances of police brutality, and the RPD has one of the highest murder-clearance rates in the country — a sign that police have a reservoir of trust and good will in the community. Further, I don’t know if these reforms are being driven by the residents of Richmond’s more crime-afflicted neighborhoods or by leftist activists and intellectuals. Still, some ideas may be worth pursuing, even if they come from the Left — at least if executed carefully without wrecking the morale of the police.

The Police are called upon to respond to a wide variety of incidents for which they are not trained. Hiring people who are accustomed to dealing with non-violent social and mental-health crises might be a good idea. I’m not convinced that the idea will work, but there’s no obvious reason it wouldn’t. As long as the City of Richmond moves in a careful, deliberate manner — tracking and measuring results, incorporating feedback, modifying practices — this is an experiment worth conducting.

I also agree that it’s worth setting up Civilian Review Boards to review incidents where police employ violence leading to injury or death. Internal reviews of shooting incidents across Virginia so consistently rule that the actions were justified that one can’t help but wonder if they are truly objective. Transparency is paramount. On the other hand, I do worry that reviews can become highly politicized and destructive to police morale. Success likely will depend upon which civilians are selected to participate in the review.

I believe in the so-called “laboratory of democracy.” Let’s try lots of experiments. Let’s try new things. Let’s see what works. It beats the heck out of a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach emanating from Washington, D.C., and the state capital.

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31 responses to “Stoney Proposes Overhaul of Richmond Policing

  1. I’m not a fan of this current movement. The police, by definition, are first responders, who then actually do call in additional/special help once they know. For instance, a hostage situation, or a “jumper” or a lost child, etc.

    What we have is that in certain situations where the police suspect a person has a record or in their mind, acting suspicious, or wary or fearful – some aggressive police will see this as something that needs more aggressive interaction – and from then on – mistakes are made – and if the cop is a senior cop, a veteran, a supervisor, then other less senior cops are not going to challenge for fear of getting reprimanded or worse.

    This is a problem that is endemic to policing in general and if has more to do with behaviors that until now with videos was not captured , and bad behaviors documented but not sanctioned – and cops with patterns of bad behaviors , not gotten rid of or sometimes gotten rid of and they just join another police force.

    It’s not like police forces can’t check prospective hires credentials and records – it’s that they don’t or if they do, it’s not disqualifying.

    On an institutional basis – this is more akin to the medical world where SOME doctors violate their ethics and commit malpractice – and the medical profession often keeps it under wraps unless or until it gets into the public realm, and they then take action.

    Some say that the Chief of Police and Mayor are responsible for all acts of bad actors under their leadership. That’s not necessarily true. If you have one or two bad apples over years, that’s entirely different that dozens of bad applies – a clear pattern of bad behaviors – tolerated, even encouraged by not sanctioning.

    We won’t fix this by “de-funding” or even restructuring… it goes deeper than that – but people are clearly and justifiably mad and frustrated and demanding action – and only now are the police starting to push back.

    • Planes still crash with the copilot heard on the blackbox politely questioning the pilot.

      Maybe guns in the cockpit are a solution to something.

  2. So where is this army of trained and licensed social workers? People willing to go out (unarmed) in these highly volatile situations at all hours where weapons may be obvious or suddenly appear out of nowhere? Maybe the overflow of people standing in line to be child protective services workers? (Hint, those jobs are hard to fill now!) Oh, yeah, putting that approach together on a statewide or national basis can happen…..

    It is fun to imagine some recent college grad with an SJW degree being thrust into those real world situations. But, but, but my professor said…..

    Stoney is toast. He would be third in a mayoral poll today. All these efforts to turn “Defund the Police” into something else that might not turn off 80% of voters are political legerdemain.

    • We already have the full suite of these professionals. They already exist but they are not first responders.

      The way than 911 dispatch is set up is to send a basic first responder – police or fire/ems and let them essentially perform triage.

      Doing this won’t change a thing – if it is determined that police are the appropriate first responder and it turns out to actually be a “police” issue – if the person is suspected to have done something that the police are the appropriate responders anyhow.

      It’s not a problem of not sending the appropriate response. It’s a problem of inappropriate behavior of the correct responder.

      In none of these most recent horrendous cases was it a problem of an “inappropriate” responder. They were the CORRECT responders, but they did their job INAPPROPRIATELY.

      doing first responder triage differently won’t fix this if the same police using the same wrong tactics still respond.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Good Morning to the World of Bacon’s Rebellion. Wishing all the best to the Dad’s of the blog on this day Sunday June 21st, Father’s Day. Being a Father is probably the only thing you got right in this world! Make it a great day with family. I just hope it doesn’t rain on my BBQ pit.

    • Thank you and a good Father’s Day to you. I don’t know how it looks where you are, but in Richmond, there will be no rain on BBQ pits.

  4. Stoney is just parroting the popular slogans. He has put no thought into it. If he had been serious about this sort of initiative, he would have focused on it and other basic problems of the city, rather than going after a big, shiny redevelopment project. But, those basic efforts are not “sexy” and don’t get the big headlines. Also, they take some real thoughtful effort that may not pay off right away.

  5. There IS some pandering going on… No one is going to “de-fund” and most are not going to “restructure” – they’re just parroting whatever words will let them slide past the current unpleasantness.

    Not to say, they are not taking seriously what is going on, nor that changes must be made in the way that policing is done – but police are the essential first responders – who then assess and then call in more specific help.

    People who call 911 – are reporting situations. The job of 911 is to get their location quickly and get a response right away especially when lives or injuries are involved. A good 911 might be able to figure out more precisely who else to dispatch… but in general, no one that is not on the scene itself is going to really know what resources are needed.

    I will point out one thing – about government here – especially with regard to it’s fitness to perform and that is 911.

    911 is a pure 100% government function – and it’s revolutionized the way we respond to emergencies and related issues. It’s govt-run and financed with fees and taxes and is a clear success of a govt run operation that most all of us rely on and want to remain govt-run.

    • No, 911 is NOT a “pure 100% government function”.

      It relies heavily on technology designed, installed, and maintained by the private sector.

      For example, the database that converts your phone number into an address when you call 911–is maintained by a private company.

  6. One aspect of the ‘Civilian Review Boards’ which is never discussed nor detailed: What training will each member receive so that it fully understands the demands and challenges of making a decision in seconds?

    I would require each member to spend at least five tours on ride alongs with police.
    I would require that each member sit in on some of the most challenging decision making instruction sessions at the police academy.
    I would require each member to undergo multiple shoot-no shoot instruction scenarios and training sessions.

    Only by learning about and being involved in the training each officer undergoes can a person understand what happens in those five seconds.

    I’ve been on ride alongs and seen how a ‘peaceful’ domestic dispute turns very deadly very quickly. I’ve had to make shoot-no shoot decisions.

    A person who has never experienced such events, nor never undergone the training for such events cannot ‘Monday morning quarterback’ such decisions.

    • I agree but would add that part of the problem is that the public are never really allowed to see the review process itself nor see and understand the standards that are being used to determine the right or wrong of a particular action.

      It’s this lack of transparency and how reviews go “behind the wall” then emerge with no actions taken or actions taken – but no real explanation of how they were arrived at – that drives suspicion and skepticism of the process.

      I’m not in favor of untrained citizens being on review boards – but at the same time – people on review boards also should NOT be people who are supporters of police and who will function as built-in defenders of actions no matter the action.

      People need to have faith in the review process… that process needs to gain the respect and trust of the public.

    • Good points. Make those comments to your governing body when and if it considers establishing a citizen review board. Better yet, because it is guaranteed there will be legislation in the special session of the General Assembly mandating the establishment of such boards, contact your delegate and senator with these suggestions. I plan to contact mine.

    • “This is where your military training will come in handy.” Words no cop should ever be told.

      Given the conviction rate of cops charged with brutality crimes, the civilian review board needs no special training. Quite the opposite.

      We need a special prosecutor with his own cops.

  7. kls59 makes a great suggestion about police “ride alongs.”

    I have always wondered why a strong ride along program for community leaders isn’t a demand of those who would reform the police. For that matter, there ought to be a “walk around” program, where community leaders walk the streets and possibly encounter activity which might later become a police matter.

    Both police and citizens could use an on-going review in real time about their approach, attitudes and behavior.

  8. I-64 to I-295, or I-95 to I-295…. problem solved.

  9. I’m in favor of more interactions between citizens and police including drive-alongs and walk-alongs but one has to recognize that the police will strive to provide police to these interactions that are exemplary, not the ones who have issues. It becomes a PR effort.

    I see this problem much like I see the problem of predators in the Catholic Church or the Boy Scouts.

    I’m not equating the type of crime between the two – but instead the fact that as an institution – the Catholics and Boy Scouts failed to maintain their institutions to weed out those that should not have been there. They were complicit in not changing their institutions.

    Similarly, 99% of the police are good police who have a tough and dangerous job but the police departments have been unable to find and remove the ones that should not be cops.

    And just like with the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts – all the good work done by the vast majority of the priests and scout leaders has been undermined and trust destroyed.

    From black folks perspectives – the police are feared. Too many of their friends and relatives have been pulled over for minor traffic offenses then had to agree to submit to vehicle searches and detainment. I don’t think ride-alongs will fix it. The police have to change the way they are operating and the first step is to ferret out the bad apples -just as the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts has had to do.

    • Change for any police department has to come from the top. The top administrators have to make it clear they will not tolerate unnecessary use of force or any brutality.

      As far as the police using just exemplary cops on ride-alongs, that might not be so bad. The citizens then see how a good cop behaves and that becomes the standard of measurement they use in evaluating all cops.

      • Well… a “good” Citizen Review group ought to know the good, bad and ugly.

        I’m not advocating a “purge” of police officers but at the same time, I think we are not recognizing that one guy on a force of hundreds – sends a message to citizens who encountered him in a bad way. Like the bad priests and boy scout leaders – they actually become the face of the organization to those who are victims – and they have relatives and friends they talk to – and even though the force has 99.9% good cops – it’s that one bad cop caught on camera in that one bad incident that really does destroy their reputation and turns many against them based on that one very bad incident.

        No matter how much it is pointed out that such incidents are “rare” – that one video segment shown over and over, overwhelms people and destroys their trust in police overall.

        PR will not paper this over. And that’s why I think that ride-alongs will be seen by some as tone-deaf PR.

        Citizens don’t care if you have exemplary cops on your force if at the same time you have bad apples not removed.

        It reflects on the integrity of the police force when they continue to operate with problems that undermine people’s trust in them.

        This will not get better until they address this.

        I don’t know about Stoney in particular. I’d have to see exactly what he is proposing before I would decide if he is pandering or not.

        Make no mistake, some Police forces do not intend to change.I note the head of the Police Union in Minneapolis is defiant about change.

        This is going to turn people against Police Unions and maybe it should.

        • Removing bad apples is what I am talking about. I think the public will understand that there could be a bad apple. Distruct occurs when that bad apple is tolerated by lower management and not removed when he/she commits a public atrocity.

          • TooManyTaxes

            Amen! Most police officers are good people and are willing to put their lives on the line every single day. But there are some people who should not be put in authority. It’s the obligation of local government to identify and remove those officers.

            How does a locality know who to send when a police call comes in? A number of years ago, we awoke to our neighbor’s and our mailboxes broken and smashed against my son’s car’s windshield. We called the police (our neighbors were on vacation). What sort of public safety person should be dispatched? A social worker? No, an officer who knows the law and the neighborhood.

            There is clearly a need to have access to negotiators, medical personnel and social workers. But there is no way that a dispatcher can identify these needs when a 911 call comes in.

            Once again, we seek virtue-signaling local (and state and federal) officials, rather than people doing their jobs. And, what’s worse, they are being cheered on by the MSM. Keep in mind that had Jacob Frey kept his campaign promise, George Floyd would probably talked to his daughter on Father’s Day. Silence = Death.

  10. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney proposal sounds like somebody else’s highly politicized faux solution in search of a ginned up problem. So Richmond races to catch up to and imitate Minneapolis and Seattle.

  11. Jim is not convinced that the Richmond Police Dept. needs some fixing. There have been few instances of brutality, he explains. Any instances of brutality is too much. But, it is not just brutality. The problems are there. In a feature Father’s Day story yesterday, the RTD interviewed several black fathers. One of them, a longtime basketball coach at Armstrong High School, a predominantly black school, said that the most important thing now is teaching his players how to interact with the police. How to behave when they’re pulled over. To turn on the light,to keep their hands on the wheel, to move slowly when reaching for the glove box. How many basketball coaches in predominantly white schools would even think of needing to have this conversation with their players? How many of us can say, like this basketball coach can, that we have had a gun pointed at us by a policeman and asked during a traffic stop where we were going and why?

    • I tell my son most of the same things — sit there with hands on the wheel, speak respectfully to the police officer, yes sir, no sir, obey commands, etc. Young men (of whatever race) often do stupid things. they often have issues with authority. There are plenty of instances of young white men doing stupid stuff with police and paying a big price for it. Many have been recorded on video or reported on by local news media. We just don’t hear about them because the incidents don’t fit The Narrative.

  12. When middle income and even high income black folks fear the police and have to tells their sons how to act if pulled over – you know there is a problem.

    this is just one poll.. there are many that essentially replicate the responses:

    • And how many of these local jurisdictions are governed by virtue-signaling mayors and supervisors? Racism among police officers is a national problem that can only be fixed locally.

    • This poll is meaningless. How are black people supposed to know about white peoples’ interactions with police? They know their own personal experiences, but their sentiments about whites-and-the-police reflect the stereotypes fed by the media.

      Here’s a poll that would have a lot more credibility: Ask blacks, whites and Hispanics how often they have been hassled by police. That would get you closer to the police…. although even then answers can be colored by the way those events are interpreted.

      I was pulled one time for speeding and my passenger got highly agitated but was never remotely a physical threat. The cop literally called for backup. To my mind, that was total overkill. To his mind, well, he didn’t know what might happen.

  13. My suggestion would be go back to 2 cops per car. Less fear for cops being solo. Also 2 body cameras capturing the interactions from differing angles. It will mean less visibility, but hey that’s what people seem to want.
    Or 1 cop and 1 social worker in each car…. each with a body camera. Good luck recruiting that social worker…. there is already a shortage and a high burnout rate!
    I also suggest taking cops out of the combat fatgues… I have always hated that warfare appearence.

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