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City Council Moving Forward on Some Police Reform Measures

Archive Photo of city council chambers
Archive Photo: Roberto Roldan/VPM News

Richmond City Council approved local legislation Monday night that’ll begin the process of instituting accountability and transparency reforms for local police.

The proposals address some of the demands made by Black Lives Matter protesters, who have held near-nightly demonstrations in the city since late May. City Council passed resolutions to create two task forces. The Task Force for Establishing a Civilian Review Board will make recommendations on how the city should establish a civilian review board for use-of-force and police misconduct. They also established a working group to develop a system for mental health professionals to respond alongside the police to mental health crises.

Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch said she hopes that system, dubbed the “Marcus Alert,” can ensure those struggling with mental health issues are responded to with help rather than violence. 

“I think this Marcus Alert is going to give us a wonderful jumping point to determine how to better respond to and support our communities who are struggling with mental health issues,” Lynch said.

Under the approved resolution, the Task Force for Establishing a Civilian Review Board is required to submit its recommendations within 45 days. The other working group, consisting of officials from Mayor Levar Stoney’s administration and one member of City Council, will need to outline a “Marcus Alert” System by October 1. 

City Council overwhelmingly rejected a resolution demanding a report from city officials on how much of Richmond Police Departments’ budget is used to address mental health, substance abuse and other “social service functions” and making recommendations to reallocate that funding. Only Council Members Stephanie Lynch and Michael Jones, the resolution sponsors, voted in favor of it.

Council President Cynthia Newbille, who voted against the resolution, said she’d like to see a more comprehensive look at all departmental budgets to better fund social services.

“It’s not a single budget issue when we talk about the dollars that will be necessary to address the concerns before our city in terms of mental health, in terms of health, in terms of substance abuse,” Newbille said.

Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith also spoke on the resolution, framing it as “defunding the police” even though the resolution would not have actually reallocated any funding. Smith said the rhetoric around defunding makes it harder for him to increase the morale of his officers.

“I’ve been consistent from the beginning that we should fund the change we want to see,” he said. 

Smith said that taking funding away from the police could also lead to an increase in officer misconduct and use of excessive force.

Here’s a summary of all of the policing resolutions and ordinances voted on by Richmond City Council on Monday:

This ordinance, passed unanimously, creates a task force of scholars, police and activists to outline how a civilian review board should look like in Richmond. According to the ordinance, the review board will have subpoena power and will independently investigate use-of-force and alleged misconduct by police. The task force’s recommendations for creating the board are due to City Council within 45 days. Once created, the civilian review board will have an estimated yearly budget of $5,000.

 

This resolution, passed unanimously, creates a “working group” to develop a plan to implement a system for having mental health professionals respond alongside officers to police calls for a suspected mental health crisis. The mental health alert system is being dubbed the “Marcus Alert” named after Marcus David Peters, who was shot and killed by a Richmond Police officer in 2018. The working group will consist of employees from the Richmond Police Department, Department of Social Service, Department of Emergency Communications and one member of City Council. Its report on how to implement the system is due to council by October 1.

 

  • (RES. No. 2020-R047Report identifying areas of the police budget used on social services, recommendations for re-allocation

This resolution, which failed on a 7-2 vote, would have required the Richmond Police Department to send the council a report on how it funds “mental health, substance abuse and social service functions.” It also asked the police and other city officials to make recommendations for reallocating that money to other social service departments within the city or community groups.