HOLMBERG: Replacing chief should have been open and honest

Posted at 11:59 PM, Feb 12, 2013
and last updated 2013-02-12 23:59:48-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- Richmond police Chief Bryan Norwood had a lot of support from the faith leaders community in Richmond, but he never had the support from – or even much conversation with – the city’s key faith leader, our Minister Mayor Dwight Jones.

On Tuesday, Mayor Jones announced it was out with the new, in with the old, when he reached back in the past to name a former deputy chief nearing retirement age to replace the much younger Norwood.

So Tuesday night there was a prayer vigil and rally by some Richmond faith leaders for Chief Norwood, a man who reached out to the faith community like never before in an attempt to face bedrock social issues that lead to crime.

Not to belittle the newly tapped Ray Tarasovic - he’s a good cop - but come on, Mayor, really? You’re going to pull a white guy out of retirement to lead a city where the majority of violent crime perpetrators – and victims - are young African-Americans?

And why not give us the reason why you secretly pushed Norwood out and hired this guy, without sharing your mission with the public or, especially, city council, as the city charter suggests?

“Who gives him the power and authority to do whatever he wants to do in this city?” said 8th District City Councilwoman Reva Trammell, who attended the faith leaders rally. “Look at the charter.” She scoffed when asked if she thought the mayor should have told her and other council members what he was thinking when he replaced the chief. “He’s not going to give me an explanation. He doesn’t have to. He’s the king of Richmond, Virginia.”

Contrast that with the recent police chief hiring process in Raleigh, where Norwood was a finalist. Not only were all city officials and the police department part of the process, the public was invited to meet the candidates and hear their specific plans for their city’s policing.

Norwood wanted to stay in Richmond. “That would be my first choice,” he told me late last summer. He looked for jobs elsewhere because the mayor made it known his days were numbered.

Many knew that the mayor just didn’t care for Norwood, a chief hired at the last minute by former mayor Doug Wilder as he left office.
Yes, that was a nasty piece of work, even by Wilder’s standards, but no reason to treat the chief like he had some kind of communicable disease.

These two key leaders of the city rarely even spoke, which is insanity in a city where crime (or the lack of it) and growth have been so closely linked.

Yes, murders and property crimes have edged up under Norwood, but the overall violent crime rate has dropped.

And anyone can see the how dramatically the health of the city has increased. Doesn’t that speak to the confidence citizens and business owners have in their safety?

Yes, the chief and his crew embarrassed the city with the Chris Brown community service debacle. There was the overtime lawsuit and other costly mistakes by rank and file officers.

Mr. Mayor, if you think Norwood performed that badly, say so, and then scour the land for someone better.

This isn’t some administrator’s position. This is the head public safety official for a city long plagued by crime. Replacing that person requires a process that is both open and honest. We got neither one from our Minister Mayor.

That’s my take, please leave yours below in the comments section.

Some background on Richmond’s new police chief:

  • September 21, 2007 - The night that Doug Wilder tried to forcibly move the Richmond Public Schools administration out of City Hall. Tarasovic was in charge of the police on the scene that night, and he blocked news media from entering the building to cover an emergency school board meeting that took place amid the chaos. From an old RTD report: At times, the situation became tense, with police threatening to arrest reporters who ventured near the doors. Officers stood behind a perimeter of orange cones and yellow tape to keep people out of City Hall.
  • In November 2006, in the wake of several high profile police chase accidents and deaths in Central Virginia, Richmond announced they would re-evaluate their pursuit policies. Tarasovic was the front man, and said the RPD was working towards a more restrictive chase policy, possibly limiting pursuits to suspects wanted for felonies.
  • He was a big proponent of Richmond police officers actually living in the city. While talking to the Richmond City Council’s public safety committee in June 2006, Tarasovic talked about how this was important to the RPD, both as a crime deterrent and a way to get officers more connected to their communities. Brought up the fact that from 2004-2006, the number of RPD officers living in the city had gone up from about 80 to about 130 (I’m checking to see what it is now). Tarasovic also said they were pushing for a big increase in the number of take-home cruisers, as an incentive for cops to live in the city.
  • He was very vocal and public during the search for Taylor Behl in 2005. Spoke at a vigil at VCU in September of that year, while Behl was still missing.
  • He was basically the RPD spokesman for the FATE campaign, or Fugitive Apprehension and Threat Elimination, a task force made up of local, state, and federal officers and agents. According to Tarasovic, in 2005, the plan was to concentrate on fugitives wanted for violent crimes or those who committed crimes associated with violence, such as drug sales. "Additionally, we targeted wanted persons who live, committed crimes or who were associated with neighborhoods in the city that have a high incidence of violent crime.”
  • He was (and presumably is) a big proponent of figuring out new ways to stop drug dealing in the city. From a July 2005 article: That appears to be one of Tarasovic 's pet projects -- finding and shutting down the city's drug markets as they move from spot to spot. They discussed some creative ways of discouraging the suburban drug buyers who flock to the city.
  • Like is his old boss, is a fan of sector policing. Remember, Rodney Monroe took the city’s four police precincts and divided each into three police sectors. The idea, refocus attention and manpower away from police headquarters and into neighborhoods.

Random info:

  • He will be the city’s first white police chief since Frank Duling retired in 1989. Although the city had a white female interim chief since, Teresa Gooch.
  • He grew up in a public housing complex in Pittsburgh, and was the public safety director for the Washington Housing Authority police force from 1997 – 2001. According to Washington Post archives, the number of homicides in D.C. public housing were cut in half during that time.
  • He served in the military in the 1960s, and once served as a hostage negotiator in Washington, while working with Rodney Monroe.
  • He has cited Bobby Kennedy and the civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama as people who have inspired him.