Richmond City Council approves $3,000 bonus for first responders

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Richmond City Council approved $3,000 bonuses for first responders throughout the city at its Monday night meeting, as part of the unanimously passed American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) budget amendment.

According to the ARPA priorities document posted only for the council’s work session, an estimated $5 million is being set aside for first responder bonuses.

“This plan is our city’s blueprint for building back better and stronger through strategic, intentional and equitable investments that deliver on the promise of a quality of life our residents want, need and deserve,” Mayor Levar Stoney said.

Richmond Police Department (RPD) Chief of Police Gerald Smith and Fire and Emergency Services Chief Melvin Carter both spoke about the staffing shortages their respective departments are facing.

“The effect combined of carrying vacancies, daily scheduled and unscheduled leave, and the impact of [the] COVID-19 pandemic has had an escalating challenge to ensure minimum staffing requirements are met,” Carter said.

According to Smith, there are 102 vacancies at RPD, which, he said is not unusual compared with what other law enforcement agencies throughout the country are seeing.

“Right now, 86% of law enforcement agencies across the country are experiencing shortages,” Smith said. “What we are experiencing here in Richmond is no different than anywhere else in the country.”

The police chief also said that the department has seen a 52% decline in applications for new positions.

Smith shared the number of separations RPD has experienced since 2017, which includes terminations, retirements and resignation: 40 in 2017, 56 in 2018, 48 in 2019, 72 in 2020, and 83 in 2021.

While Carter did not provide a specific number of vacancies at the Richmond Fire Department (RFD), he said that it has been an escalating challenge to ensure minimum staffing. In order to keep up with the demand for services, RFD adopted a mandatory overtime model in 2021. Carter said that there are an average of 14.8 overtime shifts per day, but also noted that this is not unusual, given the challenges first responding agencies throughout the U.S. have seen since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m really scared for our city,” Councilwoman Kristen Nye Larson said. “We live in a lawful society, and we need folks to enforce the law.”

Councilmembers and Chiefs Smith and Carter said that proper compensation is only part of the solution when it comes to retaining and hiring first responders in the City of Richmond. In addition to this one-time bonus, Council President Cynthia Newbille said that local leaders are considering pay scale increases.

Smith also said that RPD is working to rebrand policing and change the perception of the profession, in addition to bringing in additional background investigators to free up recruiters and looking at competition from other agencies.

Further discussion is expected at Tuesday’s Public Safety Standing Committee meeting.

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