RICHMOND, Va. -- After nearly three years on the force, Richmond Police Officer Brenda Ruiz is leaving the city.
Ruiz is one of the 102 Richmond Police Officers who Crime Insider sources said either retired, got out of police work, or transferred to a different department this year.
When fully staffed, the Richmond Police Department employs 750 officers. The current headcount is below 600.
For Ruiz, the answer was better pay and higher morale.
"I love the department and love where I work but I have to look at the future right now," Ruiz, who patrols the 1st Precinct in east Richmond, said. "My future doesn't look financially stable if I sat with the department."
Rookie officers in Richmond earn $43,000 as a starting salary as a recruit. The salary increases to $44,000 after Police Academy graduation. In Henrico, starting police salary is $51,913.
Ruiz said she would earn about $8,000 more just by working a few miles away.
But for her, it was not all about take-home pay. It was also about respect, or what she perceived as a lack of respect coming from local politicians.
"At least two of the city council members made us look like the bad guys [amid police actions during the 2020 social unrest in Richmond that included the police teargassing of peaceful protesters near the Lee monument]," she said. "The mayor came out and said some things that officers didn't agree with, he was cornered in a meeting and he said something different. It was on the media. A lot of the time our command staff has their hands tied and they can't do much for us."
In a recent interview, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said he understood policing had become more difficult in the last year.
He said while he has called for increased accountability from Richmond Police, he was not anti-police.
"I’ve never supported Defund the Police, I’ve never supported it because I know that families have come to me and said, ‘Mr. Mayor, we need the police department,'" he said.
He added that he was working to increase officer pay, but said it was not all about money.
"It’s a number of other things that I’m working with the chief on," he said. "Whether or not you can take your car home at night. Whether the car is working well. These are the little things that, you know, there’s a quality of life in your home, but there’s also a quality of life at your job. We’re focused on improving the quality of life of police officers within the city."
As Ruiz makes her move to Henrico, her thoughts remain with the Richmond communities she will leave behind.
"They're not going to have somebody there when they need them," she said. "There's not going to be enough officers to respond and it's horrible. It hurts the department. It hurts the citizens of Richmond. They got to do better."
There have been 71 homicides in Richmond so far in 2021, according to the most recent Richmond Police statistics.
Since 2000, Richmond has averaged approximately 60 homicides a year. Between 2002-2005, more than 80 people a year were killed in crimes classified as homicides in the city.