RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — City leaders are expressing their concerns about the state of crime and public safety in Richmond, as recent data showed that violent crimes have increased, compared to this time last year.
Richmond City Councilmember Reva Trammell, who represents the southside, told 8News on Monday that she is calling for Police Chief Gerald Smith’s resignation.
“If you don’t have leadership and you don’t feel that the chief is out there for the men and the women and the citizens, what do you say?” Trammell said. “You say, ‘Chief, we’ve given you two years.'”
This comes as the Richmond Coalition of Police (RCOP), a union representing nearly 350 Richmond Police Department (RPD) officers as of June 2021, is set to release the results of a survey given to local authorities on the front lines.
“RCOP has recently concluded a survey with our membership that includes their stance on Chief Smith,” RCOP President Brendan Leavy said. “RCOP has reached out to Chief Smith and is currently in the process of setting up a meeting to go over those results in the near future.”
The union previously conducted a similar survey among its officers, releasing the results in December 2021, as it called for the chief’s resignation. At the time, out of the 261 officers who responded, 96% said they had lost confidence in Smith’s ability to lead RPD, 99% said they had seen no improvements in morale since Smith took over, 89% said they did not feel valued by the chief, and 82% said they had strongly considered leaving the department before their retirement.
“Morale is down in the police department, with the citizens in Richmond,” Trammell said. “Talk to the citizens on the street, talk to the business owners that are scared to death because they don’t know when somebody’s going to come and shoot them or rob them. The fear of crime is bad. People are scared, and they have every reason to be.”
Crime data for the City of Richmond, released by RPD on Sunday, showed that homicides, rapes and robberies of individuals have decreased in 2022, compared to the same time period from Jan. 1 through Oct. 23 last year. However, robberies of businesses and aggravated assaults have increased.
“I think a lot of what has happened since the protests and the pandemic was a lot of anti-cop sentiment,” Richmond City Councilmember Kristen Nye said. “We have public safety needs, but we also need to make sure that our officers feel like they have the tools that they need to keep our community safe.”
Nye said that while RPD morale issues must be addressed, she is not calling for Chief Smith’s resignation.
“The mayor and the CIO [Chief Information Officer] are the ones who select and appoint the police chief. Council has more of an advisory role in that whole process,” she said. “So we really need to work with the administration to share any issues that we have or we see, in [the] hopes that they get resolved.”
Over the last year, the Richmond City Council has approved salary increases and collective bargaining for public safety employees, which includes police officers. But, according to council members, RPD has more than 150 officer vacancies.
“It should be taken with all seriousness,” Richmond City Councilmember Mike Jones said. “I don’t think RCOP is just pulling this out [of] the air. I know they’ve had this stance for a while now, and so I hope that the mayor and the chief are taking a real, hard look at the morale of the police department.”
City of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney appointed then-Deputy Chief Gerald Smith as the new chief of RPD in June 2020. Earlier in the day of the announcement of Smith’s appointment, Interim Police Chief William “Jody” Blackwell left his post, less than two weeks after taking over for former chief William Smith, who resigned earlier in June of 2020, at the request of Stoney. The changes in leadership came amid multiple clashes between RPD officers and protestors in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“I don’t know the good and the bad that he does,” Jones said Monday of current RPD Chief Gerald Smith. “I don’t know what steps he’s taken, and so for me to sit back and say, ‘Well, he needs to resign because of this,’ no.”
Jones said that the city needs to be faithful to its rank-and-file officers, and that morale issues must be addressed.
“That is something the leader is in charge of,” he said. “What are the challenges, and how do we find a pathway forward to ensure that these men and women can go out? They put their lives on the line, and so the things that we owe them are conversations ad nauseam to make sure that we’re hearing their needs and then addressing those needs.”
Both Jones and Trammell also added that they believe Smith is not the only one at fault for reported morale issues within RPD. Jones called on judges in the city, while Trammell called on the Commonwealth’s Attorney, to help keep dangerous criminals out of the community.
“Crime is not a direct result of law enforcement,” Jones said. “We could have 1,000 on-duty officers. Their job is to catch [criminals]. Their job is to catch the perpetrators. We’ve got to get out in front of this and help the police. We’ve got to create a society in which police aren’t in the situations that they find themselves in on a daily basis.”
8News also reached out to Councilmembers Andreas Addison, Stephanie Lynch, Ellen Robertson and Cynthia Newbille, but did not receive a response. Councilmember Ann-Frances Lambert and a spokesperson for Councilmember Katherine Jordan said they had no comment on the matter of calls for Chief Smith’s resignation. A spokesperson for Mayor Stoney also declined to respond to 8News’ request for comment.