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Expert explains what it would mean to defund Richmond Police

Posted at 8:27 PM, Jun 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-09 20:39:42-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- On Monday, Richmond Councilman Mike Jones called for an investigation into the Richmond Police Department's budget with the intention of “defunding the police.”

“Funding must be reallocated to communities that have been disproportionately impacted by over-policing and a continued lack of resources. We must reinvest in and support Black people, Black organizations, Black creatives, and Black businesses in our city,” Jones wrote in a statement.

The 9th district council member told CBS 6 he was not advocating for the removal of officers from the streets.

“We’re not talking about RPD going away, but we’re talking about RPD looking drastically different than it does today and the reality is this — the people need to own that conversation and help get that conversation going," he explained.

“Defunding the police” has become a rallying cry at Black Lives Matter protests across the nation following the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on Memorial Day weekend.

“It doesn’t make any sense that the SWAT team has all this top-notch gear and high tech, but our school systems and our schools are falling apart,” an organizer said at a Thursday afternoon protest outside the Lee Statue on Monument Avenue.

Dr. William Pelfrey serves as a professor at the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs and is the chair of the Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness programs at VCU.

Most of his research is in policing, use-of-force, police psychology, and training.

“This has been a really complicated time for police departments,” Pelfrey explained. “Some police have handled this really well. They've participated with protests. They've articulated their role, and their mission and some police have handled it not well.”

How does Dr. Pelfrey define “defunding the police?”

“When someone says, ‘Let's defund the police,’ what they're suggesting is let's stop funding the current police department and start over hire new police. No one thinks that Richmond should be without a police force. But, some people think that the current police force is not representative of the community, doesn't protect the community in the way it should and doesn't fulfill the intended role. So, defunding the police means starting over and that's a really difficult thing to do,” he stated.

Pelfrey said the use of the word “defunding” is intentional.

“[Governments] control the purse strings. That's their primary authority. That's one of their greatest levers for effecting change in their community. So, when they say, ‘We're going to take away your money,’ that really gets people's attention — if you're a police chief or a sheriff,” Pelfrey said.

Defunding a police force would be difficult, Pelfrey said. If Richmond were to seriously consider defunding the department, then leaders would start with the administration.

“You would initially go through the top-level administration, the chief, the deputy chiefs, the district captains because they hold a lot of power and authority. Try to figure out who has done a really good job, who's in touch with the community, retain them, pull their best ideas forward, and supplant them across the agency,” Pelfrey explained.

New administrators would be brought in that represent the type of agency that a locality would want to build. The officers who connect best with their community would be retained, while others would be reassigned or let go.

Pelfrey said that would be a costly endeavor. To recruit, background check, and train a new officer costs $30,000 to $40,000 per officer.

“There are things that are more important than money. Human life and quality of life — those things have significant value and it's hard to put a dollar value on those,” Pelfrey explained.

He cited Cincinnati as a good example of a city that had bad relationships with police until they hired a new chief, new top-level administrators, and pushed a community-centric approach.

Pelfrey highlighted the Buffalo Police Department as an agency that hasn’t handled their interactions with protesters or the public well.

“They have been unusually militaristic and they've used more force than necessary. They've used tear gas on people when they really shouldn't have,” Pelfrey explained.
Board members from the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police met with Governor Ralph Northam Tuesday morning.

The organization introduced a list of recommendations for moving Virginia law enforcement forward in the wake of the tragic events in Minneapolis, according to a statement.

Among the recommendations: funding for law enforcement accreditation, strengthening hiring standards for officers, and funding for better response to individuals living with mental illness.

Cheryl Nici-O'Connell was working an off-duty security assignment at a Richmond hotel when she was shot in the head in 1984.

“I speak to you as a former Richmond Police officer who suffered an ambush attack to my head from three to five feet by a serial killer who also tried to kill another police officer,” she recalled.

Her doctors called her recovery a miracle. Six months later she was back to work.

She’s since had a career change and works in the social services industry helping people find employment. Her passions include advocating for police.

“The main reason I started Richmond United for Law Enforcement is because of the outpouring of community support,” Nici-O'Connell said. “Wounds heal, but the scars run deep forever.”

She said Richmond should not defund the police, but rather support them.

“People need the police. People are in their homes terrified to come out now,” she stated. “We need our citizen support for the good cops — those that go rushing in when others are running away.”