Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2021  
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  Reimagining Public Safety or Reviving a Crime Wave?
April 28, 2021

The zeal with which the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force (RPSTF) is pursuing defunding the Richmond Police Department is a classic solution looking for a problem. The motivation was a result of police killing unarmed black persons in cities around the United States, with the City Council’s authorization of the Richmond initiative closely following the George Floyd killing. In doing so, the City Council rejected out of hand the community policing model that has served Richmond and other cities well in the past.

It is natural for well-intentioned people to want to do something meaningful to change a system and a culture that has resulted in incidents like the George Floyd killing. Local people want to start where they are, so their local police department, in this case, the Richmond Police Department, becomes the target without first examining if it has the same issues as, say, Minneapolis or Ferguson.

I would argue that the Richmond Police Department, while not perfect, is a far cry from Minneapolis or Ferguson, and other cities where police violence and racism, particularly against black people, has gotten out of hand. In 2015, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch visited Richmond to hear not only how the city had made significant progress against crime but how improved police-community relations has helped make that possible. (“Attorney General hopes to make Richmond a national model”).

U.S Attorney General Loretta Lynch came to Richmond on Friday, ending a national tour in a city starting to shake off its reputation as a crime capital.

Lynch, addressing a cross-section of community leaders in the Richmond City Council chambers Friday, said she wanted to learn from cities that have “fought their way back from the brink.”

Richmond has been attracting recognition as a model of improved community and police relations. Yet on Friday, a small crowd protested before Lynch spoke, alleging police misconduct in a shooting outside a Richmond liquor store last year.

Lynch met with police officers and high school students earlier in the day before meeting at City Hall with about 25 civic leaders including Mayor Tom Butt and other members of the Richmond City Council, Police Chief Chris Magnus, court representatives, religious and nonprofit leaders and students.
Lynch said no issue was more important than addressing police and community relationships. She referred to recent high-profile incidents that have occurred from Ferguson to Baltimore as “flash points” in a long history of mistrust.

Her visit underscored recent portrayals of Richmond as a city moving in the right direction. But no one was claiming all the work has been done. (Attorney General Listens to Richmond Leaders, Richmond Confidential, September 25, 2015)

Richmond is not a city with a recent record of trigger-happy cops that abuse unarmed civilians. In the last five years, only one complaint of excessive force investigated by the Community Police Review Commission (CPRC) has been sustained, and I assume that is the Pedie Perez killing. With as much controversy and criticism as it generated, it turned out to be an anomaly, not a pattern.

Painting RPD as a racist organization makes no sense when it is led by a female African American chief and formerly led by a male African American Chief. Before that, it was led by the legendary Chris Magnus who has just been tapped by President Biden to be the Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

Further downsizing an already depleted police department is not the answer. The Richmond Police Department is currently authorized 157 sworn officers, dozens less than even a few years ago. Subtracting from that 157 number, there are 11 vacancies, 20 assigned to light duty due to injury and two on administrative leave, leaving only 124 to patrol and respond to calls for service. The proposal by the Reimagining Public Safety Task Force (RPSTF) would slash the RPD budget even further and take another 35 officers off the streets, leaving fewer than 100.

Richmond is a challenging city for public safety. Look at the data in the chart below. There are over 100,000 annual calls for service, thousands of shots fired (2020 was the highest in five years with 6,139 shots fired!) and over 300 guns taken off the streets. That’s an average of nearly 17 shots a day! If anything, we need more police officers, not fewer.


Number of calls for service

Number of shots fired (from shotspotter)

Number of guns taken off the street

Number of times an officer discharged firearm

Number of complaints filed with CPRC

Number of complaints  acted on by CPRC

Number of complaints sustained by CPRC



 6,139 (1,500 incidents)




 1 (2 pending)




 3,445 (940 incidents)








 3,658 (770 incidents)








 4,756 (1,017 incidents)








 4,737 (994 incidents)















  • The 2019 shooting data does not include the off duty shooting involving an RPD officer in the City of Vallejo.  
  • The number of cases acted on by the CPRC is solely based on RPD records captured during RPD attendance at the CPRC meetings. According to the City Attorney Bruce Soublet, they do not have a tallied reports.  These records may not be accurate. 
  • The number of cases sustained by the CPRC is based solely on RPD records captured in attendance at the CPRC meetings.  The CPRC does not have tallied records.  These records may not be accurate.  

Spending more money on mental health, homelessness and the Office of Neighborhood Safety has no downside if you can find the funds, but it should not be accomplished by defunding the police.

While defunding police remains popular with the RPA dominated City Council majority and the Task Force members they appointed, including some who do not even live in Richmond, I believe the majority of Richmond residents are horrified at the prospect. Here are some reactions to  Reimagining Public Safety Task Force, April 24, 2021:

  • Andres Soto?  Doesn’t he live in Benicia?
  • While boosting these alternatives is wise, it's lunacy to do it at the expense of public safety.  Their proposal is a recipe for disaster. 
  • Do not agree with proposed reduction, which would cause additional issues when the public hears how we are operating with lesser law
  • officers.  In the City of Richmond, we require a full force to keep the City enforced.  There were some familiar names on the task force,
  • but also some that are not likeable.
  • I'm against reducing funding for the RPD. I expect that fund reduction would result in more crime and more police officers voluntarily retiring. And I suspect that the selection of "individuals who were impacted by law enforcement" to the Transition Task Force actually means "individuals who were negatively impacted by law enforcement."
  • Much more dangerous!! Ridiculous!  The emphasis should be on revised training and oversight!
  • The defund the police movement was knee jerk and ignorantly called to be applied to all police departments without researching or understanding the current state of each police department.  At the same time people were writing NextDoor posts about wanting less police, they were posting about slow or non-existent police response times to fireworks.  The RPD has already been reduced by budget cuts and the number of officers per resident is much lower than when I first moved here and that’s not a positive thing.  Yes, we need more social services, but not at the expense of personal safety.  Nothing outlined below would have saved George Floyd.  The defund the police movement was knee jerk and ignorantly called to be applied to all police departments without researching or understanding the current state of each police department.  At the same time people were writing NextDoor posts about wanting less police, they were posting about slow or non-existent police response times to fireworks.  The RPD has already been reduced by budget cuts and the number of officers per resident is much lower than when I first moved here and that’s not a positive thing.  Yes, we need more social services, but not at the expense of personal safety.  Nothing outlined below would have saved George Floyd.  
  • 😫BAD IDEA to reduce the Police Force!!! We are completely AGAINST this proposal! I feel unsafe already!!!😳 I don’t know of any resident who wants to take on criminals. Are the City Council willing to go out and canvas the neighborhoods. They are our representatives so the ought to “volunteer”. The whole defund the Police campaign is a political ruse hiding behind racism. Another way to reduce respect for authority and give it to those who have little or no respect for people, private and public property.  This fringe progressive movement is dangerous. Changes need to be made, but extremes are very harmful. As in the ridiculous Defund the police movement. Fixing community programs and building work pride and self sustainability within citizens/society that needs TEMPORARY support is a better idea. We need citizens who stop the victimization mentality. They drain society. Yes, Police Training and accountability and PTSD therapy for Police and more police with reduced on the clock hours is what is needed. Police need to have a life, time for family, enjoyment, health and happiness like anyone else. Who cares for their mental and physical well-being?!! Yes, there is corruption and all forces need to be re-evaluated and supported. Very disappointed in the way society is going. God help us!!!🙏
  • I do not believe reducing funds for the police force is the best response. 
  • This is the worst idea ever conceived for Richmond.  We're already known as a high crime area.  It seems that they are going to bulldoze their higher morality ideas into our daily life. The residents of Richmond can eat cake.
  • I vehemently oppose the reduction of funding and the cutting of police personnel.  My first question is - how many ridealongs have the committee members done?  Do they realize that mental health calls can quickly escalate to the level where police assistance is required?  I agree that not all calls require an armed officer; however, I have personally witnessed the rapidity with which such calls go from just talking and trying to calm the person down to having to use some degree of force to subdue the person before they hurt themself or someone else.  I can see having a team of civilians responding where this happens and someone gets hurt or worse.  Is the city prepared for lawsuit(s) stemming from such an incident?  I would like to see Daniel Barth and SOS get the funding they so desperately need to help the homeless.  This is one organization that actually makes a difference. Having done many, many ridealongs over 25 years volunteering with the PD, I feel qualified to comment on this matter,  Until you are actually out in the field experiencing the diverse number of calls for service our officers respond to, how can we place our trust in a group of individuals who have NO LE experience?  Some don’t even live in our city.  What gives them the right to have a say in what happens in our city?  I attended the Zoom meeting about the police budget and have to say I found most of the committee members to be blatantly anti-police.  It was downright scary and shocking to me to hear most of the comments.  Anyone who expressed opinions contrary to the committee were ridiculed, swore at, denigrated and dismissed.  I, for one, DO NOT want that committee making such potentially deadly changes in an area they know nothing about.  How many of the members have a law degree, or have taken courses in administration of justice? I say we need more officers, not less.  Most of the complaints I have heard over time at various community meetings are about slow response times and too few officers. As you recently said in your forum, why is the city council making inane proclamations instead of focusing on quality of life issues which concern the majority of residents?  Many police calls are for quality of life issues.  Does the council realize or care what we residents want?  They work for us, not the other way around.
  • The reduction is insane, of course.
  • Although I’m not longer a Richmond resident, since we have reciprocal services among our local communities (and since I still care about all my old neighbors in Richmond!), I’m giving you my opinion. I agree with you that an overall reduction in police is not the correct answer. When we were in the Annex, we wanted *more* patrols, not less, and would have preferred to get to know our beat officer. My wife and I are very much in support of community policing. And a move to more supportive services would seem to require a more thoughtful plan than simply reducing one budget and increasing another. I’m seeing your message, incidentally, after having this morning seen the body cam footage of Ma’Khia Bryant in Ohio. It was a tragedy that moved me to tears thinking both of the girl’s family and of the police officer and his family. Split second decisions of this nature can probably never be perfect. However, I’d much rather see resources put into retraining officers and changing department cultures. Ideally, that process would uncover places where social workers are more appropriate than officers to handle many situations, and perhaps then reducing officers would make sense.
  • I oppose the proposed recommendations to cut the ranks and the budget of the Richmond Police Department for the following reasons: 1.  Public safety is among the most fundamental of government responsibilities.  Slashing the budget of the RPD would make Richmond a far less safe place to live. 2.  Redirecting funds away from police to other activities seems to me to imply that the RPD has done something to deserve it.  I have no reason to believe that. 3.  I am not convinced that the priorities laid out by the Task Force, however desirable in themselves, are more important than good policing. 3.  If anything, I'd prefer increasing funds for the RPD to ensure excellent professional training, high morale, and the ability to keep Richmond residents safe.
  • New name for the RPA: LUNATIC  (Law of Unintended Negative And Totally Intuitive Consequences.) Having less police budget obviously means less cops and worse cops, both a recipe for George Floyd consequences. Maybe Pedy would still be alive today if there had been more cops at the liquor store, but the RPA wants to create a world where there are more single officer encounters. Assuming the RPA passes this, how about an initiative that funds police at at least the same percentage of the City budget as the current budget? To avoid the Council playing games with the numbers, the City Manager decides how much the budget is and whether expenditures are really for police (e.g. building a swimming pool out of the police budget could not be used by the Council to circumvent the funding requirement.) Trying to move on with my life and focus on and work on other (non-Council) things I care about, but the RPA is making it hard...
  • Does the proposed reduction make Richmond safer?  Not at all.  Quite the opposite. I find this scheme highly alarming and a serious challenge to Richmond's public safety. The City simply lacks the money to fix our broken society, and to take $10.3 million from the police is foolhardy.  Such helping services should be complementary to maintaining order, not a substitute.
  • It would be interesting as well as important to identify how many members on the task force are Richmond residents and who they might be. Seems the loudest voices like Soto and others do not reside in the city. Kindly provide information and who appointed each member. I think Eduardo appointed Soto
  • My understanding is that crime has gone up since the police were initially cut, and they want more cuts?  I’m not in favor of that if crime will continue to increase.
  • I believe that the number one threat to public safety in Richmond is gun violence. In order to address the huge number of homicides in our city a coordinated partnership between community members, government and the police department must be established. In addition to programs to address violence prevention and intervention, it is critically important to include enforcement as part of an anti-violence strategy. Thus the police department is a vital component of any effort to reduce violence in our city. Reducing the number of officers available to enforce our laws does not make anyone safer. I agree with the Task Force that creating a community response program is a good idea, and I support SOS and the Office of Neighborhood Safety. However, I believe reducing our police force by 32 officers is a terrible idea.
  • Are the people who came up with this aware that there is crime in Richmond? That the crime rate fell during the heyday of community policing under Chief Magnus? Have they crunched any numbers about how the decimated police force will manage crime in Richmond, or do these "planners" believe that crime will magically vanish? Who, for example, is going to handle speeding vehicles in the city - mental health workers? Will they confiscate guns in the vehicles that they stop for traffic infractions? I can't believe this is under serious consideration. I simply do not understand why community policing is being rejected for THIS. (I can't quite call it a plan, because it's so fanciful, so I'll just refer to it as THIS.)

I am particularly offended by some of the out-of-town individuals serving on the Task Force and appointed by radical RPA City Council members, for example, Antioch City Council member Tamisha Torres-Walker. You would think she has enough challenges in her own city without imposing her anti-police beliefs on Richmond. I Have to concede, however that Walker is no stranger to crime and police:

The friction seems most obvious in Antioch’s ongoing conversation about policing. At the center is Torres-Walker, 38, a mother of two who spent the early part of her life in and out of foster care. Raised in Richmond during an era of intense poverty and gun violence, Torres-Walker said she was arrested 22 times, all for minor offenses, by the age of 18. In 2009 she was convicted for setting fire to an apartment building, and managed to enter a treatment program for alcoholism after spending a year in the West County Detention Facility. (“Arrested 22 times as a youth, East Bay council member now crusades for police oversight”)

With 22 arrests and an arson conviction, I can see why the police may not be her best friends.

This is, however, how we roll in Richmond.