Gun violence rises after Stoney declared it a public health crisis, city remains working toward a ‘safer Richmond’

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gun violence in Richmond continues to be difficult to combat six weeks after Mayor Levar Stoney and city officials declared the issue a public health crisis.

Since Mayor Stoney made this declaration the week of May 10, there have been 40 reported shootings in the city, according to data from Richmond Police. That is a 28% increase from the same time period in 2020. The city saw a total of 266 shootings in 2019.

Stoney first called gun violence a public health crisis in Richmond during a press conference on May 13. Two weeks prior, a mother and her 3-month-old daughter were killed at the Belt Atlantic apartments on Midlothian Turnpike in Richmond’s southside. Their deaths were the tenth and eleventh homicides during the month of April. Three other people were sent to the hospital during that shooting as well.

However, in a press conference on June 14, Chief Gerald Smith pushed back against the idea that Richmond is unsafe. The number of violent crimes year-to-date in 2021 is up compared to this same time in 2020, but it is down compared to the first half of the four years prior.

Out of those 40 reported shootings from May 10 to June 20, 26 people were shot and at least three of those people were killed; averaging about one shooting incident a day.

As of June 20 this year, the city has seen a total of 132 reported shootings; 99 people shot and 27 of those ruled homicides.

Approximate locations of shootings in Richmond marked by red circles. (Mapped using Google Maps)

Stoney’s Press Secretary Jim Nolan told 8News, “Reducing gun violence is of the utmost priority of the administration.” He said the city has dedicated $500,000 in revenue to trauma response and violence prevention measures for the upcoming fiscal year.

In addition to the violence prevention measures, the mayor’s office also said there will be funding for “A Community Safety Coordinator position in the upcoming year to work with at-risk communities and help coordinate a spectrum of city and state services available to enhance community stability and public safety.”

When asked about actions the mayor’s office and other city officials are taking now to combat gun violence, Nolan noted that the city has yet to receive the funding from the American Rescue plan or guidance on how the money can be spent. He did add that the city is working to combat gun violence every day in the meantime, and is not waiting for the funding to be added to take action.

From the Mayor’s Office on May 13: “The city’s Gun Violence Prevention Framework Workgroup (GVP Workgroup) is a key element of the city’s community-rooted effort to address socio-economic factors that promote gun violence within the City of Richmond. The GVP Workgroup is comprised of individuals and families from communities most impacted by gun violence, survivors of gun violence, families of loved ones lost to gun violence, and representatives from community-based organizations and grassroots entities working closely with impacted communities. The GVP Workgroup is currently working on recommendations to prevent gun violence, with an emphasis on enhanced opportunities for youth and young adults and empowering communities that have experienced high rates of violence and trauma to access networks or resources, support and healing.”

He said the city will focus some of the funding on steps to improve public safety and curb gun violence — problems being seen in a post-pandemic crisis unfolding in multiple cities across the U.S., not just Richmond alone.

For perspective, in Durham, NC, police stats show shootings are up by 7% with homicides rising by over 41.67% as of June 5, 2021.

In the mid-June press conference, Chief Smith attributed the uptick in Richmond’s violent crime to three factors: guns being in the wrong hands, pandemic stress, and mistrust in police.

“If our staffing levels were higher, we would put that staffing toward those three things that we know are affecting violent crimes at this time,” he said.

Chief Smith added his department is still working on efforts to reimagine public safety by creating the Office of Professional Accountability, updating its use-of-force policy, encouraging and rewarding effective de-escalation, and re-evaluating training practices.

8News will continue monitoring gun violence data in Richmond to note the trends.

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