RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — More than two months after former Chief of Police Gerald Smith resigned from his role with the Richmond Police Department (RPD), the city has yet to list the position to hire someone to take his place.
At the end of October, Acting Major Rick Edwards was promoted to Acting Chief to fill Smith’s role in an interim capacity. But one local organization is calling for Edwards to take on the position more permanently.
Members of Richmond United for Law Enforcement took to social media last Tuesday to express their support for the acting chief.
“Wondering why the City of Richmond Leaders are doing a National Search for a new Chief when we have such a great, community orientated, involved Interim Chief, Acting Chief Rick Edwards, already on the job?” the post said. “Why fix it when it is not broken?”
During a one-on-one interview with Edwards, 8News asked the acting chief about his priorities for the department going into the new year. He noted that he has been honored to serve the men and women of RPD during his time as acting chief, and that he would consider applying for the job once it was posted.
“While I’m in that chair, whether it’s three more weeks or three more years, it’s to set those clear expectations,” Edwards said Wednesday. “One of the first things we did was — was create a list of core values for the organization, let our officers know what success looks like. Followed by that, we came up with a gun violence reduction plan to address the 58 murders that we had this year, 90 last year.”
A city spokesperson declined to state when the position of Chief of Police would be posted, but sent the following statement:
The process of selecting a police chief is contemplative and deliberate, and based on national standards should be tailored to the unique characteristics of the locale. Currently, the City of Richmond is working through a vendor review process and will shortly select a search firm.
Once a firm is selected, which will be based on national standards and reputation, the process begins which includes but is not limited to:
- Advertising the position
- Obtain stakeholder input
- Recruit/screen applicants
- Evaluating candidates
- Checking references
- Interviewing candidates
- Narrowing the field to the top candidates
- Conducting second interviews
- Conducting a background investigation on the finalist(s)
- Negotiating terms of employment and a compensation package
- Introducing the new police chief to the community
Carl Scott, Vice President of the union Richmond Coalition of Police (RCOP) and a member of RPD’s aviation unit, said there have been notable changes among those in the department since Edwards took over.
“The past couple of months have been the exact opposite of what the prior couple of years were under Mr. Smith,” he said. “It was a little easier because many of us have worked with Interim Chief Rick Edwards on cases, so there was a working relationship there. He was more receptive to the voices of the rank and file.”
The City of Richmond has had four different individuals take on the role of Chief of Police, either in a permanent or interim capacity, in two years: Chief William Smith, 2018-2020; Interim Chief William “Jody” Blackwell, 2020; Chief Gerald Smith, 2020-2022; and Acting Chief Rick Edwards, 2022.
Scott said “it would be nice” to see Edwards take on the role in a more permanent capacity, but that officers would also be supportive of another leader who continues the same efforts as the current acting chief.
“Whoever is determined to be the — or, is put into the position of being the — Chief of Police for the Richmond Police Department, we would hope that he or she will view us as an asset, not a liability,” Scott said. “Recognize the voices of the rank and file, or at least listen to the suggestions that we may put forth, and that’s a good thing. So, whoever assumes that position, we hope that they take that attitude and run with it.”
8News also spoke with Miles Turner, a member of Richmond United for Law Enforcement, who said he was concerned about the potential cost of a nationwide search for a new chief.
“I don’t know what Richmond’s plans are, but the majority of agencies of that size or larger, when they do these nationwide searches, it costs a lot of money,” he said. “They’re having to, in many cases, pay expenses for people to come long distances to do interviews. They have to do nationwide recruiting. All that costs money. Meanwhile, the rank and file are wondering, ‘Gee, who we getting next time? Who’s going to be leading this place next month?”
Edwards joined the department in 1999, and was assigned to 2nd Precinct as a Patrol Officer. According to RPD, he spent time with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Task Force before moving on to the Major Crimes Division and then the Homicide Division.
“I always feel like I’m just a normal police officer,” he told 8News on Wednesday. “If you want to make a difference in someone’s life, if you want to be able to really find a city where you can make a difference, there’s no better place than Richmond.”
Scott said that although permanent leadership remains unclear heading into the new year, the past couple of months has given officers an opportunity to absorb change and refocus.
8News reached out to the mayor’s office for comment on the choice of Edwards as acting chief and the long-term plans for the role, but has not received a response.