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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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ACLU urges release of some nonviolent offenders to combat coronavirus spread

As the coronavirus begins to hit correctional facilities, groups are calling for the release of nonviolent inmates to help prevent outbreaks. 

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By Rodney Robinson

As the coronavirus hits correctional facilities, the ACLU is calling for the release of some nonviolent inmates to help prevent outbreaks and keep residents and staff safe.

The Virginia ACLU submitted a letter to the governor, along with the executive guidance document. The document focuses on reducing the overall populations in local and state custodial facilities, including reducing the intake of people. The organization called for an immediate release of all people identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as at-risk for COVID-19, such as older people and people with underlying health conditions, whose sentences would end in the next two years. The ACLU also wants the governor to begin a process of immediate release for anyone whose sentence would end in the next year, anyway.

There are a limited number of eligible parole cases that can be reviewed for early release, according to Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran, who said at a press conference Monday that an expeditious review is “still ongoing.”

“There are a number of challenges because by the code we have no parole in the commonwealth of Virginia,” Moran said. “It is limited to geriatric release and limited to those who are sentenced before 1996.”

Moran said the parole board has withdrawn warrants on technical violations for a number of individuals and has expedited release of parole for those already paroled, in effort to eliminate interaction between the parole supervisor and the individual.

 Three inmates at the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to the Virginia Department of Corrections. One inmate at the Central Virginia Correctional Unit 13 for women has tested positive for COVID-19, according to VADOC. Four VADOC employees and one contractor have also tested positive for the virus. As of April 3, the Virginia Department of Health reports 2,012 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 46 deaths. From March 27 to April 3, 1,552 cases were confirmed, or 77% of all cases since the state’s first case was reported on March 7.

 “We need strong leadership that will move us more quickly toward a criminal legal system that is safe for everyone,” ACLU Executive Director Claire Gastañaga said in a press release. “To do this, we must jettison the ‘tough on crime’ hyperbole and recognize this pandemic as an opportunity to rethink the way we choose to use the criminal legal system to address issues of poverty, income inequality and addiction.”

Almost two weeks ago the governor announced measures to battle the coronavirus outbreak among residents and staff, such as modifying sentences, diverting offenders from serving jail terms, utilizing home electronic monitoring and reducing low-risk individuals being held without bail.

Elliott B. Bender, founder of Bender Law Group in Richmond and president of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said that the governor’s measures are great in theory “for the safety of all of us.” However, he is concerned that they are not being implemented consistently and completely. Consistency and getting all branches of government on the same page are important in this process, according to Bender.

Moran said state code mandates the victims involved need to be notified of a prisoner’s potential early release.

“And you have to provide victims time to weigh in on the decision,” Moran said. “And that is an ongoing process as well.”

To combat the virus, visitation and volunteer activities remain closed at correctional facilities, according to the VADOC. People entering VADOC correctional facilities will be screened using thermometers. In addition, the department ordered 112,000 additional bars of soap. Virginia Correctional Enterprises, which employs incarcerated people to produce a variety of goods, is now manufacturing about 30,000 sneeze and cough guard masks per day for inmates and staff, according to VADOC. All employees must assess their risk on a daily basis prior to work.

 Also, there are measures taken to ensure safety once a person leaves a VADOC facility. All inmates leaving a correctional facility are screened for COVID-19 on the day of their release, according to  VADOC.

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Richmond Police seek missing Northside woman last seen in Washington, D.C.

Candis H. Bellah, 32, is missing from the 3800 block of Chamberlayne Avenue. Bellah was last seen in Washington, D.C. on Monday, March 16 and was expected to return to Richmond on that same day but has not been seen.

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From Richmond Police:

The Richmond Police Department is asking for the public’s help in locating a missing person.

Candis H. Bellah, 32, is missing from the 3800 block of Chamberlayne Avenue. Bellah was last seen in Washington, D.C. on Monday, March 16 and was expected to return to Richmond on that same day but has not been seen.

Anyone with information on Bellah is asked to call Detective A. Darnell at (804) 363-0878 or contact Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000 or at www.7801000.com.

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VIDEO: Richmond Police seek suspect in St. Patrick’s Day burglary at VCU area vape shop

WATCH: The suspect can be seen on surveillance footage tucking and rolling through the glass of Kulture’s front door before smashing and grabbing merchandise.

RVAHub Staff

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Richmond Police detectives are asking for the public’s help to identify the suspect in a commercial burglary that occurred on St. Patrick’s Day at Kulture, a vape shop near VCU’s Monroe Park Campus.

At approximately 6:10 a.m. on Tuesday, March 17, officers responded to a business in the 1200 block of West Cary Street for the report of a commercial burglary. When officers arrived, a witness stated she heard glass breaking from the business next door.

Video surveillance shows a man jump headfirst into the glass door of the business. He’s then seen smashing a cabinet and reportedly stole thousands of dollars of merchandise.

The suspect was last seen wearing a red hooded sweatshirt, black pants, and a black backpack.

Anyone with information about the identity of this suspect is asked to call Third Precinct Detective R. Bailey at (804) 646-3192 or contact Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000 or at www.7801000.com. The P3 Tips Crime Stoppers app for smartphones may also be used. All Crime Stoppers methods are anonymous.

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