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Richmond Reviews Community Policing: Richmond Reviews Its Police Plan
July 11, 2003


A six-month checkup of Richmond's community policing revealed little change since the City Council gave its blessing to a 17-point plan in January, but many critics appear confident a sea change is in the offing.

Appearing before the council's public safety committee Thursday, Police Chief Joseph Samuels Jr. announced several new police goals, the most ambitious of which is to create 57 community policing service areas each with an officer tracking neighborhood issues.

That would appear to be a tall order for a department already so understaffed officers cannot consistently make it to neighborhood meetings, according to Samuels.

"The size of beats is going to be a major undertaking," he said. "There are a lot of moving parts, and I hope they keep moving. We're holding ourselves accountable."

With 175 active officers, the department sends 29 to 32 to patrol the streets over three shifts during any 24-hour period.

Another 18 officers' jobs are vacant, 20 are on medical leave and five are on restricted duty.

It is not clear how Samuels would fund any staff increases given the city's economic straits. Even with a $34.8 million annual budget, there is not enough to fully fund the overtime hours needed to provide full staffing, Samuels told the council last month.

New officers also will be trained in the problem-solving, collaborative principals of community policing, and all beat officers will attend neighborhood council meetings, Samuels said.

Those attending Thursday's hearing voiced a few beefs: The city continues to stall on a community survey, and officers' attendance at community-based meetings is erratic.

But "those are minor things," said Linda Jackson Whittler, president of the Santa Fe Neighborhood Council.

"The one feeling I have is we are moving in the right direction," said Councilman Tom Butt, a frequent police and Samuels critic.

Butt and Vice Mayor Mindell Penn pressed for changes to the police station's reception area, in which two clerks sit with their backs to the public.

"I have to bang on the window, then finally somebody might look up, then maybe someone will finally saunter over, then I have to explain who I am," Butt said.

"When people come to the police department they are stressed," Penn said. "They need to feel people are there to help them, not 'The answer is no, now what do you want?' That lobby is so unfriendly."

Samuels said the department has applied for capital improvement funds to reconfigure it.

Some speakers said there is no time to waste implementing new police policies.

Colyer Dupont of Atchison Village bought the old Joe's Market on Macdonald Avenue and poured $100,000 into upgrades, but cannot rent the building largely due to drug dealers and loiterers who congregate, and sometimes urinate, outside, he said.

"It seems to me it's reaching a low point," Dupont said. "I would really look forward to having someone to call other than the dispatcher -- just an impersonal voice who sends an officer out to put a Band-Aid on the problem. Five minutes after he leaves, they're all back again. There is not much accountability here."

A community policing approach would see other city agencies collaborating to make changes to the neighborhood, such as increasing lighting, cutting back dense foliage, or installing speed bumps, which could discourage drug trade or loitering, Butt suggested.

Rhonda Harris of the Santa Fe area said neighborhoods must be willing to play a role for community policing to work.

"There's been a big fear factor," she said. "My car was set on fire by drug dealers. Not everyone was ready to come forward."

Reach Rebecca Rosen Lum at 510-262-2713 or rrosenlum@cctimes.com.