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Mayor Stoney addresses need to reform, restructure city policies, practices

Levar Stoney
Posted at 5:31 PM, Jun 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-22 18:52:22-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- After weeks of unrest in Richmond in protest of widespread police brutality and the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis Police Officer, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has presented a plan to "reimagine public safety" in the city.

The proposal lays out a road map of restructuring and reforming city policies, procedures and practices, and addresses police use of force protocols as well as plans for police accountability and mental health crisis de-escalation.

Throughout three weeks of demonstrations, civilians and the Richmond Police Department (RPD) have continuously clashed, resulting in hundreds of arrests, injuries to protesters and police, and regular use of chemical weapons including teargas and pepper spray to break up gatherings and enforce a curfew that was instated for three days in early June.

At an informal meeting of Richmond City Council on Monday, Mayor Stoney presented his plan for a human services-centered approach to public safety, centered around strengthening and creating new partnerships between the city and community organizations.

“Of course, we need officers to respond to violent and criminal acts, but we cannot expect our police officers to serve as social workers, psychologists, child trauma experts and mental health workers, responding to every non-criminal call for service because America hasn’t properly prioritized other service providers,” Stoney said. “It does not make our country, or our city, safer.”

The elements of the plan fall into five key groups: policy, accountability, programs, community healing and engagement, and governance.

On Monday, Stoney said that the Richmond Police Department has updated and strengthened their Duty to Intervene policy, which ensures that officers are legally and morally obligated to intervene when they believe an officer or supervisor is about to use excessive or unnecessary force or observe other inappropriate actions.

Duty to Intervene policies came under public scrutiny nationwide after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, who held his knee on Floyd's neck for almost 9 minutes while Floyd repeatedly said that he couldn't breathe. The killing was caught on video and shows three other officers voicing their concerns, but ultimately failing to prevent Floyd's death.

Stoney also said that the RPD has updated its long-standing ban on chokeholds to provide greater specificity for officers.

In an effort to introduce citizen-accountability of RPD, Stoney has agreed to the longstanding demands for a Civilian Review Board, a group tasked with reviewing complaints about officers and recommending disciplinary action after police departments have completed their own investigations and made their own recommendations.

Stoney has established that it should be independent of the police department and representative of the Richmond community at large. To that end, he has requested that Richmond City Council play an active role in engaging constituents and drafting the legislation to create the board.

The Stoney administration has committed to hosting two community engagement meetings before the ordinance is drafted and introduced and is encouraging city council to do the same.

“This is my goal: over the next few weeks and months, we will collectively engage the community, seek input from RPD, review best practices and present an ordinance for introduction,” Stoney said.

The city will also create a formal crisis alert system called the Marcus Alert. The alert is named after Marcus David Peters, a 24-year-old Richmond man who was shot and killed by RPD in May of 2018 while experiencing a mental health crisis.

The Richmond Behavioral Health Authority (RBHA) and RPD will implement a responsive citywide alert system that allows the two agencies to work collaboratively to address calls about mental and behavioral health crises, ensuring residents get the help they need.

Stoney has also founded the Task Force for Reimagining Public Safety, a group that will bring together more than 20 individuals from the activist, legal, academic, law enforcement, mental and behavioral health and other communities to agree on a set of actionable steps forward within 90 days of the first meeting.

The task force will focus on making public safety recommendations that build toward equity and justice in five core areas: police policy, practices and culture, police accountability, community healing and engagement, officer training and education, and officer and community wellness.

The Stoney administration has also committed to removing the city’s Confederate monuments. The state allows municipalities to begin the removal process July 1, though the mayor has stated that he supports immediate removal.

Stoney also said that racial equity should be a core component of city policies and practices, and said that he has been working with Richmond City Councilmembers Cynthia Newbille and Ellen Robertson to develop a racial equity strategy for the city, which includes staff training and an equity study, among other measures.

As part of this work, Mayor Stoney has asked his executive cabinet to report back to him with several ways in which policies and practices within their portfolios can be changed to actively advance equity.

“The issues we have with our public safety system, and with creating racial equity and justice more broadly in our community, do not have an easy or straightforward solution,” Mayor Stoney said. “It’s going to take compassion, conversation and teamwork to create meaningful change in our city.”

“But, the work cannot and will not stop here... we have to remember that public safety is not the only system that needs to be reformed. We have work to do to ensure that our kids are receiving a high-quality education, that affordable housing opportunities are available across the city for all residents, that city services are delivered in an effective and efficient manner, and that we provide pathways for economic mobility. This is our time, our chance, our opportunity to renew Richmond — to give it new strength and spirit.”