RICHMOND, Va. — A few dozen members of the Richmond community turned up at a Southside church Wednesday night to discuss a wide range of public safety issues with Police Chief Gerald Smith.
The event dubbed “Community Conversations with the Chief” notably lacked direct conversations with the chief, which was pointed out by a man in the crowd.
Instead of asking their questions directly to Smith, people were asked to write them down on a note card, hand it to a host, which was then given to a host and read aloud to the chef.
The host, media personality Miss Community Clovia, read aloud a note that read, “What kind of meeting can’t we verbally talk? The police are talking to themselves. This is not acceptable. “
“I think we communicate,” Smith replied. “I think that’s the format that’s been put in place for us, and I think it’s working well.”
Wednesday’s forum was the first of several organized by the police with the aim of building trust and building relationships with the public. The series was called following controversy surrounding admitted miscommunications and confusion over Smith’s claims that the department had shut down a July 4e mass shooting plot at Dogwood Dell, despite no publicly available evidence of a specific location.
However, of the dozens of questions asked by Southside residents, only two related to the mass shooting plot. A note card expressed gratitude to officers who investigated a clue to the conspiracy, but asked about “inaccuracies”.
Smith replied, “I’ve done many interviews on the fourth and answered many questions over and over again. What I’ll say is what I’ve always said is that the focus should be on exactly What I said: Great job these officers and detectives did.They deserve full credit for everything on the 4th of July.
The Clovia community read a memo sent by Kim Gray, a former city council member, who asked, “Why were the mass shooting suspects treated as if they were guilty when no evidence was found. been presented in court?
“Kim, there was evidence and I’ll let the case speak for itself,” Smith replied.
Several questions were submitted about traffic issues on the south side, including speeding issues and intersections that some people called dangerous. Smith said he wanted to create a centralized method within the department to handle all traffic complaints.
“That’s what needs to get into the ears of captains and lieutenants so they can actually lead and offer solutions and even solve problems,” he said. “Being able to bring in all the data and complaints at some point that we could actually look into and do something about it.”
Other citizens wanted to talk about solutions to the problems of drugs, prostitution and gun violence. A question has been asked about the murder of 15-year-old Tynashia Humphrey. Police say Humphrey died when she was caught in the crossfire as she walked down a town street near Gilpin Court on Monday.
“This little girl had nothing to do with what was happening and it cost her her life. It could be anyone in Richmond, and that’s why it’s a community concern,” Smith said. “It takes a community to stop this from happening. We have to give our young people things to do. We have to create opportunities for people. We need to support our school system. We have to do so many things.”
Speaking on gun violence prevention measures, he said the department’s gun violence interruption program would soon be launched. These positions are reserved for civilians, who may have criminal histories, to target high-risk communities and develop relationships with those at risk of committing violence.
He said a supervisory position is expected to start this month.
“The people we have chosen for these roles, we will train them in the community as quickly as possible. I think they will make a positive difference.”
Smith provided an update on department vacancies. Currently it needs to fill 150 out of 755 positions, adding that understaffing means fewer opportunities for proactive policing.
“We have staffing issues. If we were full we could actually do a lot more across the city. We’re not neglecting the city or any part of the city at all, but we have to stop the bleeding, we need to stop filming, and that’s where we’re going.”
Even if the department recruited all the necessary officers, Smith said it would still take a few years to train them and prepare them to report for duty.
A resident asked how Smith plans to train officers to make them more accessible.
“Oh, wow. I wouldn’t agree with that. Sometimes they can be tired and maybe overworked, but they’re not necessarily unreachable,” Smith said, adding that he was focusing on the officer training to get to know the city. “When it comes to understanding and dealing with people in special projects, special communities and things of that nature, what we realized we weren’t doing was teaching them Richmond.”
Additionally, Smith warned residents about the increase in vehicle theft, which is currently driving overall crime for the city.
“Please get out of your car and secure your gun. Many people continually fuel crime by leaving their guns inside their car unsecured, in a console, on the seat and things of that nature. The number of firearms still removed from cars is worrying, and that is what is a problem,” he said.
Also present Wednesday night was 8e District Councilwoman Reva Trammell, who said she had “no confidence” in the police chief last week.
“How do you get people to come here if our officers here have no faith in the chief of police,” Trammell said.
Trammell said she was concerned about what she saw as low attendance at the event.
And although only two people had questions about the mass shooting plot, she believed it was still a priority issue for people in her neighborhood.
“You saw the chef shut them down. He wasn’t going to talk about it,” she said. “I know a lot of people are still worried about the so-called mass shooting.”
Trammell then praised Second Precinct captain KeShawn Manns, who gave a presentation at the crime statistics meeting.
“Our captain did a great job. He takes our calls. He’s there,” she said.
She also wants to ask Smith to build a relationship with the Southside saying, “Chief, I want to see you walking around our neighborhoods.”
Smith said his department remains committed to keeping Richmond safe.
“We’re here to really make a positive difference in the community, and I believe our officers should be recognized for that every day,” Smith said.
Three more in-person meetings with the chef remain, all starting at 6:30 p.m.:
- Thursday September 15: for residents of the third arrondissement. First Baptist Church, 2709 Monument Avenue
- Wednesday, September 21: for residents of First Precinct. MLK Middle School, 1000 Mosby Street
- Thursday September 22: for residents of the fourth arrondissement. Barack Obama Elementary School, 3101 Fendall Avenue