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How 100+ police vacancies impact public safety: 'Richmond is struggling'

Posted at 5:49 PM, Mar 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-22 18:12:54-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- As cars rolled through a Southside Richmond McDonald's drive-thru Tuesday afternoon, employees on the inside were still processing a tragedy that happened the night before.

Near the fast-food restaurant on Hull Street Monday evening, police said 29-year-old Jayce Folker was found shot to death.

His homicide was the 11th in Richmond this year.

“They’re frustrated. They’re terrified," community activist Cruz Sherman said. "We've had, unfortunately, five shootings in the last 27 hours. We're having so many that we have to say, 'Was is this location or that location?'"

Sherman joined Richmond Police on Tuesday to check in with workers and business owners at the Southside Plaza who may have been impacted by the gun violence.

The effort was part of a 'RESET' program that officers and faith leaders usually partake in following a homicide.

"We're here to encourage them and to give them resources if there's somebody that suffered from trauma, just like the employees at the McDonald's. A lot of them were working last night," Sherman said. "So we want to make sure that emotionally and mentally, that they're fine."

Sherman explained it's a community policing strategy aimed to build trust and develop relationships between law enforcement and those who call Richmond home.

“Being very visible in the community really brings a lot of relief and also hope," he said. "We want to be proactive rather than reactive."

Law enforcement expert Dr. William Pelfrey, a professor of criminal justice at VCU, agreed.

"The best policing is proactive policing where police officers go out in the community and they build trust," he said. "They build those relationships."

Pelfrey added the efforts lead to more intelligence and information for the police department from community members.

But engaging with the community can prove difficult when there aren't enough officers.

"Then they're just reactive," Pelfrey said. "They're dealing with calls from 911 after things have happened. They don't get that opportunity to intervene.”

Currently, the Richmond Police Department has 618 officers, according to a Richmond Police Department public information officer. The force has 755 total positions which means they're left with 137 vacancies.

“If there are not enough police officers, it means there are fewer officers on each shift," Pelfrey said.

Some other patterns that may take form under a short-staffed police department, according to Pelfrey, include:

  • Slower response time
  • Slower backup arrival
  • Less time and attention for certain calls
  • Difficulty recruiting and retaining officers
  • Overworking officers leading to fatigue

Shortages are not unique to Richmond Police. Pelfrey said police departments across the country have been experiencing gaps in staffing due to a recent culture shift and low morale surrounding policing. For that reason, Pelfrey doesn't expect police departments to fill all their vacancies soon. However, he said Richmond Police face additional challenges because surrounding agencies pay officers more money.

“Richmond is struggling to find money and find the right kind of people," he said. “They have to convince people of the importance of making a difference. Here's how you can make your community a better place.”

Pelfrey said Richmond Police deserves credit for being a fully-accredited agency which is rare among urban police departments.

"They're accredited because they're good, they follow all the policies, they implement best practices, they research what's going on, and they pull in the best ideas," he said.

While a shortage of officers impacts public safety in several ways, Pelfrey emphasized it doesn't directly lead to an increase in violent crimes.

Police said 80% of the recent homicides in Richmond have involved people who knew each other.

This is a developing story, so anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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