RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Just over two months since Rick Edwards was named as Acting Chief of the Richmond Police Department (RPD), he spoke with 8News in a one-on-one interview about the agency’s priorities for the new year under new leadership.
City leaders announced on Oct. 25 that former chief Gerald Smith had resigned and would be on administrative leave until the end of the year, naming Acting Major Edwards, a 23-year veteran of the department, in his place.
“We can have all the strategies we want, but the first thing that I’m concerned about is the morale of the officers,” Edwards told 8News on Wednesday. “What I heard loud and clear when I took over was they wanted communication. So, having direct communication. So, I’ve taken steps early on to have roll call meetings. We’ve had two town hall meetings where the officers got to speak to myself and CAO [Lincoln] Saunders and discuss urgent concerns.”
Acting Chief Edwards also said that recruiting was a priority. As of Wednesday, he said that the department was authorized for 755 officers, but only had 606 sworn in.
“We’re really redoubling our recruiting efforts. So we’re trying to get all those officers that left in 2021 for other police departments to come back,” he said. “I’m personally calling officers who are wearing green and wearing gray, trying to get them back into the blue, and we’re seeing some success with that.”
Edwards said City Council’s approval of pay raises for first responders, including police, gave his department a fighting chance against nearby localities such as Chesterfield and Henrico Counties in recruiting officers.
“Once you take the pay out of the equation, I think the city has a lot to sell. This is a place where you can rise quickly,” he said. “We not only have a diverse police department; we have a diverse population. So we have a lot of different communities. We have a lot of things you can do in this organization.”
Acting Chief Edwards also addressed the crime priorities of the department going into 2023, specifically naming violent crime and pedestrian-involved crashes on the city’s roadways.
According to RPD crime data through Dec. 25, there were 89 homicides in 2021 and 57 homicides in 2022. Although those statistics reflected a decrease in the loss of life, Edwards noted that even one homicide is too many. The data also showed that more of those homicides were committed using a firearm in 2022 than in 2021.
Moreover, that data reflected a 12% increase in the number of aggravated assaults in the City of Richmond from 2021 to 2022 — 612 to 683 — with a 9% increase in those committed using a firearm.
Arsons, burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts also increase year-over-year, according to the department’s crime data.
“While I’m in that chair, whether it’s three more weeks or three more years, it’s to set those clear expectations,” Acting Chief Edwards told 8News. “We came up with a gun violence reduction plan to address the 58 murders that we had this year; 90 last year. So we’re going to have a reduction, but there’s still 58 too many, and then, we came up with a plan to address our traffic fatalities. So, 28 people have died and we’re investigating fatal crashes of vehicles and pedestrians, and when we looked at what the commonality was, they were speed-related.”
On Wednesday, the acting chief met 8News at the intersections of Hull Street and Warwick Roads. He said that location was chosen specifically because it was named by RPD’s crime analysts as one of 10 gun violence “hotspots.”
“What I want to do is just make sure that our officers are in the right place during the right time so they can have the biggest impact on combating gun violence,” Edwards said. “We want to be able to leverage as much technology as we have to fight crime in a more effective and efficient way. So, it’s not just looking at where the crime’s occurring and where we put our officers when that crime occurs, [but also] how we’re able to solve it.”
8News also asked Acting Chief Edwards for a status update on the city’s violent interrupters.
Back in February, then-chief Smith and Mayor Levar Stoney announced that the City of Richmond would be taking new measures to combat gun violence. The violence interrupters were intended to serve as mediators for individuals at risk of committing violence. Job postings for the positions were listed on the city government website several months ago, but have since closed. However, this week, another violence interrupter opening was posted online.
“We’ve hired a supervisor and we have had interviews very recently. We hope to bring more people on board, and we are taking some steps,” Edwards said. “I’m a supporter of the program. I think there’s a model that can work for our city.”
8News also asked Acting Chief Edwards about hiring standards for police officers, given recent issues with an RPD officer resigning just days before being sentenced for the assault of a Chesterfield County Sheriff’s deputy back in July, and Virginia State Police (VSP) being investigated by the Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) for its hiring of Austin Edwards, the lone suspect in a cross-country triple murder that happened the day after Thanksgiving in Riverside, Calif.
“I don’t want to lower standards. We have to widen it, expand the pool,” the acting chief said. “Sometimes it’s a good officer who has a bad day, and we can work with that. But sometimes, it’s a person that doesn’t deserve to wear this badge, and when we discover that, I want the community to know that we’re going to hold those officers accountable; make sure that they don’t get to wear this badge. So I would rather be short than have a bunch of officers that don’t deserve to police our city.”
A job that has not yet been posted, though, is that of the Chief of Police for RPD.
Acting Chief Edwards said that it has been an honor to serve the men and women of the department thus far and that he would consider applying for the permanent role. He said that he would make his final decision when the opening is posted.
8News reached out to a city spokesperson and the human resources department for information on when the posting for Chief of Police would be listed and why that has not happened already, but has not received a response.