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INTERACTIVE: Richmond Police address concerns over rising crime

Richmond is almost on track to match the number of murders in 2016, which was the city’s deadliest year in a decade. Against that worrisome trend, the police department has been holding public forums to hear residents’ concerns and seek their help in curbing gun violence and other crime.

Capital News Service

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By Maura Mazurowski – Capital News Service

Already this year, Richmond has seen three double homicides:

  • On February 16th, Deborah Walker, 55, and her daughter Shaquenda Walker, 24, were shot and killed in their home on Coalter Street.
  • On March 29th, a triple shooting in Mosby Court left Mikkaisha Smoot, 16, and Taliek Brown, 15, dead after both were taken off life support at VCU Medical Center.
  • And on April 10th, Kejuan Goode, 18, and Terrell Thomas, 20, were shot and killed in South Richmond.

“This seems to be once again a senseless act, but something that’s not random,” Mayor Levar Stoney said at the crime scene at the Walker home. “It seems very isolated, like some of the acts that happened in the past.”

So far in 2017, the city has had 20 homicides, according to the Richmond Police Department’s tally. (That may be an undercount. A list kept by WTVR shows 23 murders to date.) During the corresponding period of 2016, there were 23 homicides. That is a worrisome trend, because 2016 was the deadliest year in Richmond in a decade: The city ended the year with 60 murders.

Crime overall is up this year, according to the Richmond Police Department’s Crime Incident Information Center. Through April 30, Richmond police received reports of more than 11,000 violent crimes and property crimes. That’s 1,000 more than during the corresponding period of last year.

Most reported violent crimes are gun-related, said Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham.

“We’re seeing a lot of gun violence in the city,” Durham said. “A lot of our young folks are illegally possessing firearms.”

Gun violence was a key topic at recent forums held throughout the city by the Richmond Police Department. Such town halls have become an annual tradition for the department since Durham became chief in 2015. But this year’s forums had a specific focus: What is causing an increase in crime in Richmond – and what can the community do to help?

More than 100 people attended the first forum at the Southside Plaza Community Center on April 18 to express frustration with the spike in crime. At that point, Richmond had seen 1,432 violent crimes so far in 2017 – 39 more than during the same period last year, according to the department’s Crime Incident Information Center.

Despite the numbers, Durham assured the crowd that crime is “not out of control.” However, this was a tough bit to sell to Karen Norwood, whose 30-year-old daughter Noony was shot and killed on Hull Street on Nov. 6 and died nine hours later at a nearby hospital. Noony was an African-American transgender woman — the 21st trans person reported to be killed in America last year, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT civil rights advocacy group.

Norwood said she has been in touch with police, but no new developments have come to light despite surveillance cameras near the crime scene. “There’s cameras out there, but the images on the camera – they can’t see it because it’s too dark for them to see it,” she said.

Durham stood by his word at the final town hall of the season on April 27. He said crime across the city is not out of control; rather, certain neighborhoods have seen a “significant increase” in crime – especially in East Richmond, public housing communities and several communities in Southside.

“We know where the crime is,” Durham said.

He proceeded to go through a detailed presentation including crime statistics, the proliferation of firearms in the city, department staffing levels and how the community can help.

The first slide cited statistics that the department sends the FBI for its Uniform Crime Report, which is divided into two categories: violent crime and property crimes. Violent crimes include murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. Property crimes, which are more common, range from shoplifting to burglary, larceny theft, motor vehicle theft and arson.

“We have been concentrating our efforts on these areas because we know where the violent crime is committed,” Durham said. “Crime is not out of control. But we do have violent crime in this city, and we have a small population of folks committing those criminal acts.”

He emphasized the need for “transparency” between community members and the police department in improving public safety.

“We can’t do our job if we don’t know your expectations of your police department,” Durham said. “We are having some challenges this year, but the most important keys on how we’re going to resolve those issues are sitting right in this room.”

Durham said crime can be difficult to manage because the department is understaffed. It is authorized to have 750 sworn officers but has only 688, including cadet recruits who don’t graduate from the academy until this summer.

The Second Precinct in South Richmond is short 13 officers alone.

“How do we make up for that?” Durham said. “Through minimal staffing overtime. When we’re making them work, they get burned out.”

Crime rates are increasing outside of Richmond as well. According to the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which collected data from 61 metropolitan police agencies, U.S. cities saw 6,407 homicides in 2016 – an 11 percent increase from the year before. Dallas, Las Vegas and Phoenix – as well as Louisville, Kentucky; Memphis, Tennessee; and San Jose, California – all saw rises in killings in 2016.

Smaller cities that typically have low murder rates saw a jump as well, including Arlington, Texas, which had four homicides in 2015 but 18 in 2016, and Salt Lake City, which had six in 2015 compared with 14 last year.

Richmond had 43 homicides in 2015. The city’s murder rate that year was 19.5 per 100,000 population. Last year, with 60 homicides, Richmond’s murder rate was 27 per 100,000. That’s an increase of more than 38 percent.

The FBI has not yet released 2016 crime statistics for all of the nation’s cities and states. However, even before the 2016 spike in homicides, Richmond compared poorly to other cities.

Of the 290 U.S. cities with at least 100,000 people, Richmond ranked 20th in the murder rate in 2015 and had the highest murder rate of all large cities in Virginia. Norfolk, which has a slightly larger population than Richmond, had 28 murders in 2015.

Meantime, the chief is asking the community to partner with him and his department, reminding residents that his officers do all they can to keep the city safe. But at the end of the day, “we all play a role.”

“Police are the only people in society paid to do public safety, but public safety is a shared responsibility,” Durham said. “What more can we do?”

Some community members are already doing their part. Carolyn Johnson, president of the McGuire Civic Association, said she has been dubbed president of the “Snitch Club” in her neighborhood. She encourages others to take photos if they witness crime and call the police directly – not 911 – when reporting wrongdoers.

“This is my block, and I’m taking it back,” she said at the first forum on April 18.

Charles Wes, another town hall attendee, said he would like to form a coalition of people who want to get youths involved in activities like recreation leagues and community events to keep them off the streets. His suggestion was met by loud applause; Nicole Fields suggested that the forum attendees come up with activities themselves.

Such community involvement is what the police need, the mayor said.

“We have an awesome department … And although they are great, they are not superheroes,” Stoney said. “They will tell you they are only better with better neighbors and citizens. They’re great because of you all.”

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Mayor Stoney names members of “Task Force to Reimagine Public Safety”

“There is a lot of work ahead of us, but this group’s diversity of expertise and lived experiences is a key asset on our path forward,” said the mayor. “I am thrilled to have this team help our city heal.”

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Today Mayor Levar Stoney announced the members of the Task Force to Reimagine Public Safety and outlined his primary requests of the diverse group of professionals. The majority of task force members stood with the mayor for the announcement.

“There is a lot of work ahead of us, but this group’s diversity of expertise and lived experiences is a key asset on our path forward,” said the mayor. “I am thrilled to have this team help our city heal.”

The members of the task force bring an array of perspectives from activist, legal, academic, law enforcement, emergency services, artistic, healthcare, and other fields. At the close of a 45-day period, the task force will bring the mayor a set of actionable steps forward to build a safer city for all.

“After additional conversations and review of actions taken in other cities, I do not believe we can wait to begin acting on reform recommendations,” said Mayor Stoney. “I have asked this task force to report back with initial recommendations within 45 days of their first meeting.”

The mayor established three foundational requests of the task force: reviewing the police department’s use of force policies, exploring an approach to public safety that uses a human services lens, and prioritizing community healing and engagement.

“We need a new process for noncriminal and nonviolent calls for service, and that will be a top priority for this task force,” noted the mayor. “We must center compassion instead of consequences.”

Regarding community healing and engagement, the mayor said that the task force will allow the city to explore methods of engagement that will enable meaningful change, using his support for the Virginia Black Legislative Caucus’ legislative package as an example.

“Last month I expressed my support for the VBLC’s package for the summer session,” said Mayor Stoney. “This task force can determine where the city can explore complementary legislation and where we need to focus community advocacy to make statewide change a reality.”

Members of the Task Force

Carol Adams, Richmond Police Department
Ram Bhagat,
 Manager of School Culture and Climate Strategy for RPS

Glenwood Burley, retired RPD officer

Keisha Cummings, community engagement specialist, founder of 2LOVE LLC, member of the Richmond Transparency and Accountability Project and the Richmond Peace Team

Torey Edmonds, Community Outreach Coordinator at VCU Clark-Hill Institute for Positive Youth Development

Professor Daryl Fraser, VCU School of Social Work professor and licensed clinical social worker

Triston Harris, Black Lives Matters organizer and organizer of the 5,000 Man March Against Racism

Birdie Hairston Jamison, former district court judge for the 13th Judicial District in Virginia

Councilman Mike Jones

Shanel Lewis, Youth Violence Prevention Specialist at the Richmond City Health District

Brandon Lovee, Richmond artist and advocate, member of the Richmond Peace Team

Colette McEachin, Richmond Commonwealth Attorney

Reverend Dontae McCutchen, Love Cathedral Community Church

Dr. Lisa Moon, Associate Provost at VCU and former Director of the Center for the Study of the Urban Child

Sergeant Brad Nixon, RPD

Tracy Paner, Public Defender for the City of Richmond

Bill Pantele, Richmond attorney and former City Council Member

Professor William Pelfrey, VCU professor with expertise in emergency preparedness and policing

Councilwoman Ellen Robertson

Rodney Robinson, National Teacher of the Year and teacher at the Richmond Juvenile Detention Center

Patrice Shelton, Community Health Worker in Hillside Court and director of the Hillside Court Partnership

Lashawnda Singleton, President of the Richmond Association of Black Social Workers

Sheba Williams, Executive Director of NoLef Turns

Courtney Winston, Richmond trial attorney

The Mayor’s Office is specifically working with the Office of Community Wealth Building’s Community Ambassadors to identify additional community members, including youth, to be part of the task force’s important work and to assist with community engagement.

The task force is committed to a transparent process and will make meeting minutes available to the public.

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Firearms Now Prohibited in City-Owned Buildings, Parks, and Recreational Facilities

The new rules went into effect on July 1st.

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From the Office of the Mayor:

As of July 1, firearms are prohibited in city-owned buildings, parks, recreational facilities and community facilities. This includes, but is not limited to: City Hall, community centers, the two Department of Social Services locations and all public parks.

Richmond City Council passed the mayor’s ordinance to prohibit guns in city buildings and parks in July 2019. However, the prohibition did not go into effect until July 1, 2020 because the state only recently voted to give municipalities the power to limit guns in certain spaces.

“No Richmonder should ever be threatened by gun violence,” said Mayor Stoney. “This is especially true in public spaces like parks and community centers, where residents expect to enjoy public amenities, not fear for their lives.”

“Paired with our reporting requirement on illegal guns, this key legislative change is a model we should replicate and a foundation we should build on,” continued Mayor Stoney. “Carrying the memory of Markiya Dickson in our hearts, we must continue to advocate and innovate for a safer, stronger Richmond.”

The text of the city code, § 19-334.1 Carrying firearms in certain places, reads:

No person shall carry any firearm within any City-owned building, park, or recreation or community facility. This prohibition shall not apply to any duly authorized (i) military personnel in the performance of their lawful duties, (ii) law enforcement officer, or (iii) security guard contracted or employed by the City.  (Ord. No. 2019-165, § 1, 7-1-2019)

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Humberto Cardounel announces retirement as Henrico’s chief of police

Henrico County Chief of Police Humberto “Hum” Cardounel Jr. announced on Monday his plans to retire effective Sept. 1, ending a nearly 32-year career with the Police Division and four-year tenure as its leader.

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Henrico County Chief of Police Humberto “Hum” Cardounel Jr. announced on Monday his plans to retire effective Sept. 1, ending a nearly 32-year career with the Police Division and four-year tenure as its leader.

Cardounel revealed his plans and underscored his gratitude to Henrico in an email to division staff, recalling how he applied to only Henrico when he sought to become a police officer. He announced no immediate plans and said he has concluded “it is time for me to pass the torch onto the next generation of police leadership.”

Cardounel said he will take advantage of Henrico’s Voluntary Retirement Incentive Program. A cost-cutting measure available during the COVID-19 pandemic, the program offers enhanced benefits to eligible employees who choose to retire.

“I started this career as a 21-year-old college graduate with little thought as to what the future held for me,” Cardounel said in his email. “I thought I would do this for just a few years, but it wasn’t long after that I realized this was my ‘home’. It felt right, Henrico was the right place for me. Nearly 32 years later Henrico is still my home and still the right place for me.”

County Manager John A. Vithoulkas praised Cardounel for his “more than three decades of outstanding service and his calm, steady leadership as chief.”

“Hum has left an irreplaceable mark on Henrico and its Police Division, having served in nearly every facet of the agency’s work throughout his long, distinguished career,” Vithoulkas said. “Hum also has demonstrated what it means to serve with heart, and Henrico is stronger, safer and eternally grateful that he selected our community as his home.”

Cardounel joined the division as a patrol officer and a SWAT Team medic in 1988. He rose through the ranks to investigator and later sergeant, command sergeant, lieutenant, captain and major. He served as deputy chief for the Patrol Bureau, led the Criminal Investigations Section, developed and implemented the Homeland Security Section, and provided leadership and service to the Training Academy, Internal Affairs Unit, Media Relations Unit, Organized Crime Section and Personnel Unit. Before his promotion to chief in 2016, Cardounel served as deputy chief for the Investigative Bureau and a member of the chief’s executive staff.

As chief, Cardounel oversees an agency responsible for providing law enforcement for Henrico’s more than 331,000 residents and a community covering 244 square miles. The division has a staff of 863 sworn and unsworn personnel and a budget of $81 million for fiscal 2019-20. Cardounel is the 16th individual to serve as Henrico police chief since 1915.

He is a graduate of Douglas S. Freeman High School and holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Richmond and a master’s degree in public administration from Virginia Commonwealth University.

Henrico plans to conduct a national search for its next police chief and expects an appointment by Sept. 1.

“What this County has done for me over my career is immeasurable,” Cardounel said. “I only hope that I have been able to give something back and that in some small way I have helped move us forward. What my HCPD family has done for me I can never repay.”

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