RICHMOND, Va. -- The Richmond Police Department is reminding protesters that they have the authority to declare an unlawful assembly if protests become violent or dangerous.
In a release, RPD spokesperson Gene Lepley said the declaration, under Virginia Code VA 18.2 -406, gives officers the authority to make arrests if protesters fail to disperse.
Richmond Police say several unlawful assembly declarations have been announced in recent weeks and "officers have refrained from making arrests," but property damage and personal injury will not be tolerated.
“I have instructed my officers to make every effort to support each citizen’s First Amendment right to express their opinion,” said new RPD Interim Chief William “Jody” Blackwell. “We share their vision of a better, more inclusive future for Richmond. But, some protesters actions put everyone at risk and we must address that.”
Police say when the decision is made to declare an unlawful assembly, repeated announcements are made by bullhorn to alert everyone to leave:
“This is been deemed an unlawful assembly. Please disperse. Failure to disperse will result in arrest and/or exposure to chemical agents.”
Police say the declaration will also be tweeted out.
"If you hear the unlawful assembly announcement or see the Tweet, please leave the area immediately," Lepley wrote.