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Richmond Police Chief addresses spate of youth violence, says major crimes are increasing citywide

Posted at 6:11 PM, Oct 05, 2022

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith addressed a recent string of violence against the city's youth as "something we just can't stand" during a Wednesday press conference on crime statistics.

Hours before the briefing, Smith spent his Wednesday morning at a Starbucks on Broad Street for a "Coffee with a Cop" event. A few Richmonders, including 10-year-old Bella Brownlee, showed up for an opportunity to chat with the chief and other officers.

“It's important for me and my family to feed back into the community that feeds into us," Brownlee said. "Because these first responders, they put their life on the line to protect this community and all people in it, and sometimes we don't even deserve them."

Brownlee, a student at Albert Hill Middle School, said she and her mother brought Chief Smith a handwritten card and a pound cake as a token of appreciation.

"They need to get paid more. We need more police. We need more good police. We need more reformed police," Brownlee said while referencing a cultural shift toward law enforcement following the death of George Floyd in 2020. "We have to make sure the police we are hiring are good people."

Smith said the gesture "felt good" and will go a long way in improving morale within his department.

"That was two people who came to say that I was doing a good job. They were throwing a great deal of support for me, and it just, it was very touching for them to come," Smith said.

A couple of hours later, Smith gave a presentation to local media outlets on the third quarter (July through September) and year-to-date crime statistics to discuss trends and prevention efforts.

On top of mind for Smith was a recent string of violence against the city's youth after two teens were shot just days apart in different locations on the city's Southside. One victim was a 17-year-old walking to a school bus stop and the other was a 14-year-old who was riding a bike. Smith said he believed both teens were possibly targeted.

“Any father in here would know that is something that would touch your soul, and every parent knows that is something that we just can’t stand," Smith said.

Including two incidents from October, numbers showed Richmond has seen 19 nonfatal shootings involving juveniles so far this year and three shootings that were deadly.

Though there are three more months to go in 2022, those numbers were down from 32 nonfatal shootings and five deadly shootings involving juveniles that occurred in 2021.

Smith encouraged parents to pay attention to the crowd their children are hanging around and to check their rooms for guns.

“There were a lot of youth being shot during COVID and things of that nature, but they were able to settle down a little bit when school kicked in, so supporting schools and mentors and parents in schools is very important too.”

Overall, major crimes in the city have risen by 25% compared to this time last year. Smith said the increase is largely fueled by property crimes, including vehicle thefts and stolen catalytic converters.

Though violent crime is slightly up by 2% year-to-date, the number of homicides has dropped from 60 last year to 43 this year. And aggravated assaults, which include nonfatal shootings, have risen from 474 incidents in 2021 to 537 in 2022.

Smith said Virginia is pouring money into RPD in an effort to combat violent crime. The state has recently launched a Violent Crime Task Force to assist local communities and local law enforcement agencies and identified Richmond as a locality that the Commonwealth should help.

Governor Youngkin's Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Bob Mosier briefly popped in to Wednesday's Coffee with a Cop event in Richmond. Smith confirmed his department is working with Mosier.

"Right now, it's a financial partnership," Smith said. "I believe in the next coming weeks, there will be more of an announcement of what they're doing, but I don't want to steal their thunder. We've been in talks with Mosier for quite a while, and Secretary Mosier is a big supporter of us."

Though the alleged July 4th Mass Shooting plot, which continues to play out in court, happened during the third quarter, Smith did not want to answer CBS 6's questions about it.

“We’re not addressing that Tyler," Smith told reporter Tyler Layne during the press conference. "We told you that earlier before you came in that we’re sticking to the third quarter briefing.”

“But can I ask--," Layne replied.

“This is what I'm telling you. We told you what we’re addressing here today, okay," Smith responded.

No one from RPD told CBS 6 that questions about the incident were off limits at the press conference.

Smith said the department is currently down 153 officers out of 755 total positions. He said it could take multiple years to fill all the vacant spots.

"If we had more people, there are more things that we could do," Smith said when asked if vacancies are impacting officers' ability to do their job.

He said the biggest recruitment challenge is convincing people to want to become an officer.

"Those same barriers that we're seeing across in the profession. It's just getting people to realize that this is a cool job, to come in and take the job," Smith said.

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