Proposal kickstarting defunding police process in Richmond moves forward

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A resolution requesting that city council reallocate funds from the Richmond Police Department to other city departments and to community mental health, substance abuse and social service programs is moving forward.

The resolution asks the Richmond Police Department to “identify activities currently performed by the Richmond police department that relate to mental health, substance abuse and such other activities that do not directly relate to the law enforcement aspects of police work.”

It was introduced by Richmond City Councilmembers, Stephanie Lynch and Michael Jones on July 1.

Councilmembers Lynch and Jones are calling for police funds to be diverted into mental health programs, addiction recovery and programs for high-risk youth.

“The resolution is simply asking the police department to develop recommendations on how they would, and I’m gonna use chief smith’s verbiage here, fund the change,” Lynch told 8News Friday.

On Thursday night, two out of three committee members recommended the resolution be brought before the full council. Councilman Mike Jones and Councilwoman Ellen Robertson pushed it forward while Councilwoman Kristen Larson pushed back against it.

“I think it’s up to council, for the first time, to just simply lead, ” Jones said Friday. “We’re just asking them, show us your book, show us how you’re spending your money.”

8News reached Councilwoman Kristen Larson by phone Friday.

“I’m not opposed to those policy decisions, however, I am opposed to moving money just to move money, and that’s what this paper looks like,” Larson said. “I want to sit around the table, I want meaningful public input on what programmatic changes we can make, and then let’s fund it in the next budget cycle.”

“I think it’s up to council, for the first time, to just simply lead, ” said Councilman Mike Jones said Friday. “We’re just asking them, show us your book, show us how you’re spending your money.”

Jones said Richmond can’t wait. 

“What we need is action and that’s what this council should be about, not kicking the can down the road,” he said. 

During the committee meeting, more than 20 people spoke during the public comment period, including the sister of Marcus David Peters — an unarmed black man who was killed by police in Richmond while he was experiencing a mental health crisis.

RPD Police Chief Gerald Smith spoke up defending his department. He said he hears the concern of the community but defunding the police is not the answer.

Council has asked the police department to release a line item report of their budget by October. The resolution will be placed before the full council on July 27.

Meanwhile, there’s still confusion over what “defunding the police” means and would look like in Richmond. Even people who want to defund the police department, including Lynch, agree the phrase itself is misleading and confusing to many. 

In Richmond, according to the council members pushing for it, “defunding police” means taking some money from the police department’s budget and moving it to other programs. After Thursday night’s meeting, the city is one step closer to doing that. Defunding the police doesn’t mean police won’t exist.

“You will not speak to an African American on the southside that doesn’t want the police. We want the police, but it’s how,” Jones said. 

Some people are concerned that defunding the police could lead to more crime or crime ignored. 8News asked Councilman Mike Jones for his thoughts on that.

“Law enforcement does not stop crime. If that was the case, then we’d just have to throw another $50 million toward it and crime would go down. That doesn’t happen,” he said. “As we’ve seen a rise in the budget for police officers.. we have not seen a consistent decrease in crime so that’s not the issue.”

8News also cited recent crime in the city of Richmond, specifically a mother who was shot and killed while sitting on her front porch.

“We haven’t defunded the police and it happened,” Jones said. “There are issues in our community that we must begin to face. It goes into safe and clean neighborhoods, it goes into properly funding schools.”

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