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RPD Chief Re-Ups Commitment to Reform

Man at podium
Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith and Mayor Levar Stoney at Smith's introductory press conference last July. (Photo: Coleman Jennings/VPM News)

*Clara Haizlett reported this story

Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith outlined some of the reforms he is making in the department during a press conference Tuesday. This comes as Mayor Levar Stoney is expected to release the city’s new equity agenda, which will cover public safety.

Smith was appointed last summer, amid protests and clashes between citizens and Richmond’s police force. Protestors demonstrated against police brutality and called for greater accountability in the RPD.

In response to the unrest, Stoney convened the Task Force for Reimagining Public Safety in July of last year. The task force reviewed the police's use of force, mental health resources and options for community engagement. They also offered recommendations for how the police can better interact with the Richmond community.

“The group had the tough conversations necessary to develop a complete, holistic vision for reimagining public safety,” Stoney said.

Under Smith’s leadership, the department is implementing several changes, including the establishment of the Office of Professional Accountability and the External Advisory Committee. The committee consists of 15 community leaders and is designed to facilitate dialogue between residents and police officers.

“I believe that the police department should be deeply involved in the community,” Smith said. “And that the community should be deeply involved in the police department.”

Smith also mentioned the creation of a “de-escalation award,” recognizing officers who have defused violent or potentially violent situations, which he says is “long overdue.”

Another change is that officers will now carry business cards with information on how to file a complaint or compliment.

The department is also working to adjust how officers interact with protesters, training them in what’s called “Connections and Chaos.”

“We have trained officers, not only to stand in line during protests and demonstrations, but also to interact with protesters to actually be able to connect and hear what they have to say,” Smith said.

To implement these changes, Smith says they’ve worked alongside the Marcus Alert System workgroup, the Government Alliance on Race and Equity and the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, among other organizations. The department also plans to work with faith leaders in 2021.

Stoney applauds these changes, saying community safety does not rest solely with the police department.

“We all have a role to play in making Richmond a place where everyone feels safe no matter what their zip code may be,” he said.

Mayor Stoney says he will introduce the equity agenda during Monday’s City Council meeting.