Richmond Times-Dispatch

Police task force issues final recommenda­tions

Stoney says some ideas may be enacted quickly; others need evaluation

- BY C. SUAREZ ROJAS AND ALI ROCKETT

A 38-member task force created by Mayor Levar Stoney in July after months of ongoing demonstrat­ions calling for police accountabi­lity and a racial reckoning has delivered its final recommenda­tions to “reimagine public safety.”

The 15 recommenda­tions include reallocati­ng police budget dollars, developing a new dispatch system that reroutes noncrimina­l calls to agencies other than police, and forming a new city department for restorativ­e justice and community programs. Though the Richmond Police Department is

integrally linked to many of the recommenda­tions, most of the suggestion­s involve greater community involvemen­t in public safety.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Stoney said he hopes to act on some of the recommenda­tions soon but declined to set a timetable for their implementa­tion.

“Some of them will need to be evaluated and some will be actionable ASAP,” he said. “I think we owe it to those who worked on this plan to be thorough in our review of the recommenda­tions.”

He said the city may enact some of the recommenda­tions immediatel­y, such as new police officer training programs, but noted that others may require additional funding or the approval of the City Council.

Stoney said there are no recommenda­tions he “fully dislikes,” but clarified that he would not support “defunding the police” when asked about a recommenda­tion calling for the city to review funding in the police department’s budget for items “that no longer align with Richmond’s values and needs” so that it can be reinvested in other areas that would “empower the community and bring greater economic and social justice.”

In July, the City Council voted 2-7 against a resolution that essentiall­y called for the mayor’s administra­tion to do the same thing.

“I don’t believe in de

funding the police. I believe we have to fund the change, fund the reforms as well,” Stoney said. “Some of those reforms will live in other agencies and other organizati­ons that can support bringing about a human services lens to public safety. That’s what I think we need to do.”

The task force divided into three subgroups— use of force, human services and calls for service, and community healing — that met weekly, on top of the larger group meetings every other week, for three months resulting in the 39-page report released Monday. The use-of-force subgroup produced nearly half of the recommenda­tions.

This subgroup provided some of the most specific suggestion­s, like encouragin­g the police department to find a more efficient bias screening tool for hiring new officers. It also recommende­d that the department work with Virginia Commonweal­th University’s Brandcente­r to create a new website and produce a public report of stops, arrests

and complaints based on demographi­cs.

Other recommenda­tions include increased training emphasizin­g deescalati­on; creation of a third-party anonymous complaint system; improving officers’ access to mental health services; and standardiz­ing when force is used and reported by officers and the language they use when responding to incidents.

“Despite sound policies, the implementa­tion of said policies is often at the discretion of officers, which can lead to discrepanc­ies,” the report said of the department, which recently earned re-accreditat­ion from CALEA, a voluntary program that sets profession­al standards applicants must meet.

The policing subgroup’s first suggestion focused on redistribu­ting police department funding, noting that the city spends more annually on it than on social services, community developmen­t and alternativ­es to incarcerat­ion. The police department’s nearly $97 million allocation in fiscal year 2021 is the second-highest of any agency, behind only the school system.

“Intentiona­l investment in the resources and services that truly keep communitie­s safe — health and mental health, quality education, youth developmen­t, workforce developmen­t, and public transporta­tion are necessary to reduce harmful interactio­ns between police and those who are disparatel­y impacted by overpolici­ng,” the report says.

The report says that action would also be necessary for the successful creation of a new city department, the Office of Restorativ­e Justice and Community Safety, a recommenda­tion from the Community Engagement and Healing subgroup.

This new office would “create amodel for racial healing guided by communitie­s most harmed by the justice system” and “provide non-law-enforcemen­t resources and responses to non-criminal calls for service.” It would also coordinate community programs and events that encourage cultural diversity, mediation and conflict resolution, in an effort to reduce the city’s reliance on police and the criminal justice system.

The Human Services subgroup suggested working with existing city offices like the Department of Emergency Communicat­ions, which dispatches emergency calls to police, fire and EMS, to “find an immediate way to triage calls to get them diverted [from police] to appropriat­e places.”

Calls for barking dogs, welfare check, truancy or curfew violations, mental health, loud music or neighbor disputes should go to department­s other than police, the report said.

Many recommenda­tions referenced programs in other communitie­s, like the Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTs) in Eugene, Ore., that Richmond can use as a model.

In closing, one of the task force members, George Brown, offered a sobering reflection that while the committee did an “excellent job” suggesting broad changes to reimagine public safety, an underlying issue still looms large: poverty.

“Imagine after all that great work, the people are still poor,” he wrote. “So, I will cautiously celebrate a victory with all of the contributo­rs to the task force.”

 ?? BOB BROWN/ TIMES-DISPATCH ?? RichmondMa­yor Levar Stoney gathered in July at City Hall with members of the task force to reimagine public safety. The 38-member panel has finalized its suggestion­s.
BOB BROWN/ TIMES-DISPATCH RichmondMa­yor Levar Stoney gathered in July at City Hall with members of the task force to reimagine public safety. The 38-member panel has finalized its suggestion­s.

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