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RPD Chief: New billboards 'insult' quality of officers

RPD 2021 Second Quarter Crime Report Homicides.png
RPD: 'Stresses of the pandemic' to blame for rise in violent crime
RPD: 'Stresses of the pandemic' to blame for rise in violent crime
RPD: 'Stresses of the pandemic' to blame for rise in violent crime
RPD: 'Stresses of the pandemic' to blame for rise in violent crime
RPD: 'Stresses of the pandemic' to blame for rise in violent crime
RPD: 'Stresses of the pandemic' to blame for rise in violent crime
Posted at 1:09 PM, Jun 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-14 18:38:03-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Richmond Police Department addressed crime rates so far for 2021 during a press conference Monday morning.

The good news, Chief Gerald Smith said as he presented the second quarter report, was motor vehicle theft and property crimes are all down. Burglary is down as well.

But compared to 2020, as of June 9 he said homicides are up, robberies are up and violent crimes are also up.

Smith said violent crime has increased throughout the country for three reasons: Proliferation of guns on the streets, the economic and mental stresses of the pandemic and -- after the social unrest of last year -- people aren't calling police like they used to .

But he added that we should take a broader look at the picture.

"We are giving you a depiction of crime is up, but it's up against very very low numbers of 2020," said Smith. "But when you take a look at it from the last few years it actually is not bad. But it's not what we want. We want to see if we can drive down those numbers even further."

Smith calls 2020 an asterisk year due to the effects of the pandemic.

He also had strong words for that Richmond Coalition of Police (RCOP) union that has purchased billboards with a warning to visitors and Richmonders traveling along the interstate: "Public safety is in crisis."

In fact, the group purchased another billboard right outside the entrance to RPD headquarters on West Grace Street asking "Are Richmonders getting the most qualified Police Officers?" The message than compares the salaries of a city officer to other jurisdictions which pays more than the city.

"It basically brings into question the quality of police officer working here in the Richmond Police Department. I think they just insulted my officers," Smith said. "They are qualified, highly qualified professionals."

Det. Brendan Leavy with RCOP told CBS 6 earlier this month that he wanted to spread awareness to the citizens of the lack of officers on the street.

"Officers just don't feel compelled to go and do proactive stuff because they don't have other officers backing them up," Leavy explained.

Smith told reporters on Monday that the department is understaffed, but he's working with City Council to study raising the salaries of his officers. All city employees will receive at least a 3.25 percent raise in the Fall.

"If [RCOP is] willing to help they should help, but it looks like they are pushing their self-fulfilling philosophy," Smith stated.

As of Monday evening, Leavy nor RCOP has responded to our request for comment.

Dr. William Pelfrey is a professor of criminal justice and policing at VCU’s Wilder School.

"If I were a Richmond Police Officer and I saw that billboard, I would likely feel a bit of cognitive dissonance. I would 1) feel insulted that RPD is being questioned in terms of quality, and 2) hope that this inspires Richmond to improve RPD officer salary. Police officers do not go into policing with the expectation of getting rich. Instead, most police indicate they want a career where they can help people and make a difference in the world," Pelfrey said in an email.

Watch Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith's full presentation here