HOLMBERG: Richmond faith leaders stand behind the police chief, ask mayor to join them

Posted at 12:15 AM, Jan 09, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-09 11:20:03-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Come Saturday, Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones will be inaugurated for the second time.

The word is that he’s considering firing the city’s quiet police chief, Bryan Norwood.

If that’s the case, our reverend mayor is going to get an earful from other city pastors who believe in the chief, who have partnered with him to reach some of the toughest areas in Richmond.

“That shouldn’t be,” said Pastor Larry Miles Sr. with Fresh Anointing Cathedral in the once crime-plagued Highland Park. “And I would love to talk with you, Mr. Mayor. I would love to.”

“Big mistake,” said Pastor Alex Boyd of the Living Faith Church of God in Christ in the South Richmond’s Bellemeade neighborhood. “It should not be a personal issue. The mayor is a wise man.”

A little more than four years ago, former Mayor Doug Wilder hired Chief Bryan Norwood from Connecticut just before leaving office, instead of leaving the pick to incoming Mayor Dwight Jones. It was a political slap and bad form for sure - a mayor likes to have his own guy in that crucial role.

One of the first things Norwood did was form a partnership with city faith leaders to address the social ills that have fueled Richmond’s once-famous violent crime rate.

“I’m really pleased with what the chief has done,” said Rev. Ben Campbell with Richmond Hill. “He’s a very serious and earnest person. He’s clearly got the respect of his department . . . and he has got a lot of respect of a lot of us who have worked with him.”

Campbell and several other faith leaders who have been working with the chief believe the partnership is a crucial one to truly address the root causes of crime that have long haunted Richmond.

“You know, all crime is really crime of the spirit in a lot of ways,” Campbell said. “There’s a sense of despair and a sense of abandonment that has been what we’ve let happen in our center cities. It’s crazy. A city can’t live with this kind of spirit. So this is good stuff.”

Pastor Alex Evans with Second Presbyterian Church in downtown says police officers have been dealing with issues of the spirit anyway – and need the help of engaged clergy, on the ground.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “the police department is often dealing with the people who are most helpless and the most struggling and it’s hard work. So to invite the faith leaders into the conversation is a way to engage more deeply into the community, and I think the chief’s done a great job of that.”

The program has grown and is being talked about in other cities. There have been many police and clergy walks through Richmond neighborhoods.

“I’ve done community events with him,” said Pastor Boyd, an Army combat veteran who was disfigured in Vietnam. “I see how people respond to him, you ever see a police chief anywhere in America dancing with the community?”

City Hall insiders say the mayor’s relationship with the chief is poor, and Norwood’s job is at peril.  Officially, the mayor’s office has had no comment in recent weeks, including Monday.  The mayor can replace the chief at any time.

The numbers show violent crimes have decreased during Norwood’s watch. But property crimes have increased. Richmond officers have not killed any citizens in the line of duty and the overall relationship the department has with its citizens has generally improved, according to the faith leaders partnering with the force.

These faith leaders believe the relationships Norwood and his officers have built in the community will continue to bear fruit in the future.

And they believe Mayor Jones will see the light Norwood has brought, instead of dark move by Wilder that brought him here.

Pastor Miles said he has not spoken to the mayor about the chief.

“We do interact. I think he (Jones) is an annointed faith leader. I think he’s a very wise politician. If what I’ve heard, that he’s considering that (firing the chief), that would be a very unwise decision. As the saying goes, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. This is not broke.”

Pastor Boyd agreed, hoping the mayor is listening. “I hope he would hear us,” he said. “I believe Mayor Jones is too wise to make a move like that. I watched him over the years. He is a good man.”

In an early fall interview with CBS 6, Chief Norwood said he loves Richmond and wants to continue working as chief here.