Mandatory overtime returns for Richmond Police still struggling with low staffing levels

Mandatory overtime returns for Richmond Police still struggling with low staffing levels
Richmond Police officers responded to a call at Fourth Street and Macdonald Avenue on April 5, 2023. Photos/Linda Hemmila

Despite ongoing recruitment efforts, the Richmond Police Department continues to grapple with significant staffing shortages, leading to the reimplementation of mandatory overtime shifts.

Last year, Richmond hired 20 officers. However, officers continue to leave for other agencies, Chief Bisa French said at the June 5, 2024, Community Police Review Commission.

“This year, we’ve already hired nine police officers but lost five, soon to be six, with another officer leaving for another organization,” French said. “We had gone for a period of time where we didn’t have to do mandatory overtime shifts, but due to some injuries that occurred, we’ve returned back to the mandatory overtime, unfortunately.”

Officers, in addition to their regular shift, are putting in an extra weekly shift, resulting in approximately 50 working hours. This doesn’t include instances when staff call in sick, and coverage is needed.

“We’re looking at scheduling options for the next year to see what we might be able to do with the amount of staff we have,” French said. “We do have people in training, but it is still going to be a little while before they are out of training and able to be a solo officer. That is our major challenge right now.”

The department successfully filled vacancies in its professional staff and communication center, which was operating with half the allocated staff at one point.

“Now we’re only down two positions. We have one person in background and will be recruiting for the second position. So, I am hoping to fill those last two positions in the next couple of months, and communications will be full,” French said.

Officer Alyssa Alvarado said Chief French was not exaggerating when talking about how strained officer staffing levels are as they try to maintain minimum staffing levels.

“We are stretched very very thin right now, and we are all trying to cover so everyone in the city can get the same level of service,” Alvarado said.

On that day, Alvarado was covering the morning shift and would continue to work into the night, getting off at 1 a.m.

“I will be here tomorrow,” Alvarado said. “Then afterward, I will be filling the rest of my mandatory overtime until 7 a.m. the next day.”

Alvarado said two separate city-funded studies have now said the budgeted staffing level of 146 is well below the recommended 175-200 officers.

A report on public safety staffing by Matrix Consulting Group called the police staffing levels’ seriously deficient’ in meeting the needs of the public. It said officer turnover at the Richmond Police Department was an “unsustainable crisis” in August 2023.

Report: Richmond Police staffing levels ‘seriously deficient’ to meet the needs of the public
A report on public safety staffing requested by the Richmond City Council has called the current police staffing levels ‘seriously deficient’ to meet the needs of the public and said officer turnover at the Richmond Police Department was an “unsustainable crisis.” The report by Matrix Consulting Group created a data

A workforce analysis by Raftelis Financial Consultants recommends filling vacancies and adding 28 new police officer positions to meet current service level expectations.

“It is not safe to just play in the gray area. It is not safe for the citizens who deserve a higher level of service,” Alvarado said. “They deserve rested officers who can respond to calls, and they deserve ample people who can answer your calls in a timely manner.”

On the agenda: Richmond facing staffing challenges, needs dozens of new employees, says report
A workforce analysis by Raftelis Financial Consultants to be presented at the May 28 Richmond City Council meeting recommends filling vacancies and adding 74 new positions, including a dozen more police officers, to meet current service level expectations for all of the city’s existing programs and services for $12.

Commissioner Oscar Garcia inquired about increasing patrols on 23rd Street and highlighted merchants’ challenges, particularly around smoke shops. One of the effects of low staffing was the police department disbanded the regulatory unit that kept tabs on the city’s smoke shops.

“There is one next to Grant Elementary School that just opened up, and it’s crazy to see,” Garcia said. “It is unfortunate that we defunded that because now kids are being exposed to these dangerous things.”

French said the city is still evaluating its approach to enforcing regulations on smoke shops.

Many smoke shops have recently popped up around Richmond, sparking concern from neighbors.

“Back when we had the whole defunding movement, and we lost a lot of positions and funding, I made it known that we were no longer going to have a regulatory unit, and that portion of the duties was going back to code enforcement,” French said. “The way the ordinance reads is that the city does the permitting, but we are actually doing the enforcement around it.”

According to French, the Richmond Police Department cannot handle many Richmond Municipal Codes due to staffing issues, necessitating revisions to these codes.

“The department is collaborating with the city attorney’s office to alter the ordinance, which is still in effect. There are numerous RMCS that need to be revised because we lack the personnel to carry out certain duties,” French said.

When the department fielded a regulatory unit, they permitted the smoke shops and did regular checkups.

“That is why we didn’t see the problems that we’re seeing now with a lot of smokeshops. We did regular inspections and basically kept them in line,” French said.

French said if we are going to allow smoke shops, they shouldn’t be in areas easily accessible for children and shouldn’t sell snack food and candy that attract children.

“Just walking on the 23rd on my walk with the chief, I noticed that the ones we do have now have all of the things that are magnets for kids. If they are going in there for chips but they see marijuana stuff and other stuff, I wouldn’t want to expose my own children too,” French said.

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