RICHMOND, Va. -- Meeting virtually with Richmond City Council members for the first time Monday evening, Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith said he is embracing the city of Richmond and is asking for support from the community and city leaders.
The new chief said he understands the challenges the department faces and is looking for ways to restore peace in the city while boosting morale within his department.
“My first instructions were to increase police presence out there,” Smith said. “I think that we are still coming out of the shock of civil unrest and that the officers themselves felt as though they didn’t want to spark any other civil unrest.”
The chief said he believes the protests have reached a turning point, with less destruction and run-ins between protestors and police.
However, some council members voiced concerns from residents living on and near Monument Avenue about the lack of police presence and enforcement of the law.
“I’ve taken many emails about vandalized vehicles,” Councilwoman Kim Gray said. “There have been slashed tires, cars being spray painted, houses being spray painted.”
Gray said residents have also expressed fears associated with people, from various groups, carrying firearms while not adhering to Virginia’s Open Carry laws. Virginia law does not allow people to carry assault rifles with a loaded clip, or allow guns to be used as a form of intimidation.
“First of all, when are our gun laws going to be enforced? There were people out last night, for a lack of better terms, vigilantes with assault rifles, clearly visible,” Gray told Smith.
On Monday, Mayor Levar Stoney touted the city’s new ordinance, banning firearms in Richmond city parks and city buildings, including City Hall and community centers.
While maintained by the Richmond Parks and Recreation Department and the Department of Public Works, Stoney says the law does not apply to spaces around city-owned monuments.
“I don't think those identify as parks,” Stoney said during a news conference. “But if you were in Lucks Field or Jefferson Park or Libby Hill, we would be able to enforce such.”
When it comes to assault weapons, Chief Smith, who relocated from Charlotte, said he’s studying Virginia’s Open Carry laws to discern what is legal.
A spokesperson for the mayor released a statement to CBS 6 saying, “We expect those who live in, do business and visit our city to obey its laws, and to know they are subject to summons and or arrest if they are observed by law enforcement to be in violation of those laws.”
Chief Smith said more police presence in the coming days will help ensure that laws are being followed. He says the department will also be collaborating with other city agencies, including the Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Public Works.