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 analysis of the staffing needs of the police and fire departments based on call volume and interviews with community members.
The consulting group's findings recommended adding 40 additional officers in addition to the 145 officers currently authorized to bring the staffing levels up to 185 officers. The department was authorized to have 180 officers in 2015 but lost positions over the years, with the most significant losses coming in 2020 and 2021. Twenty-four sworn officers left the force in 2021 when the Richmond City Council reduced the police budget by $3 million and cut 12 unfilled positions.
Despite hiring 17 new officers this year, the department still only has 120 officers. With an average of 10 officers on injury leave at any given time, only 110 officers are available to deploy across the city, Richmond Police Chief Bisa French said during a community meeting Monday.
“The number of officers that we currently have is not enough to do the job that we are asked to do,” French said.
The department has required officers to work mandatory overtime over the last two years to cover the nine police beats across the city.
But nine officers cannot cover the entire city of Richmond and its 116 thousand residents. When significant incidents occur, many officers are unavailable to respond to calls.
On Saturday, according to reports, a passerby spotted a man down in the 400 block of Third Street and called the police. Emergency responders found a 17-year-old male suffering from gunshot wounds to the chest.
“I can tell you at least six of those officers were tied up dealing with that homicide. This meant a large section of our city was uncovered for hours while we investigated the homicide until we could get homicide investigators to come in and we could secure the scene,” French said.
Nearly all nine officers were busy with crowd control on Friday when a juvenile suspect reportedly barricaded himself at the Crescent Park Apartments.
While crime has fallen in Richmond over the last few years and is down five percent this year compared to the previous year, French said 110 officers cannot provide the same service as 185 officers.
Despite the Reimagining Public Safety Community Task Force's efforts to move away from community policing, the chief said partnering with the community is responsible for Richmond's decreasing crime rate.
"Community policing is what I believe has led us to the lower crime rates here in Richmond. The trust that has been built between the community and the police department is how we’ve been successful in reducing our crime rates," French said.
Low staffing levels impacted every police unit, and the department lost most of its ancillary units, including the traffic unit, community violence reduction team, regulatory unit, and foot and bike team.
“Patrol comes first. When people call 911, they need a response. Our primary focus is being able to respond to those calls for service," French said.
The additional officers in other units supplemented the patrol unit, so residents would see many more officers on the streets.
“It appeared we had more officers patrolling the areas whether they were doing those different job duties or not. It was extra visibility out there on the streets,” French said.
This meant the department lost the ability to handle many of the quality of life issues the community often complains about. These may include traffic issues, sideshows, prostitution, drug dealing, mental health issues, parking issues, street sweeping, loud music and noise calls, and barking dogs.
“We are not able to handle the bulk of those calls at this time, or it takes us a while to get there,” French said.
The traffic unit was separate from patrol and didn’t necessarily handle calls for service, but they dealt with all traffic issues and watched out for traffic violations.
“This year, unfortunately, due to our staffing, we are no longer able to deploy a stand-alone traffic unit,” French said.
A severe lack of proactive investigations in the patrol bureau has led to cases that are not followed up on or solved. The needs assessment located ways to reduce workloads and use different resources.
Proactive investigations allow law enforcement agencies to conduct investigations that need more time and equipment to be effective. Matrix says proactive units can help make communities safer by targeting repeat offenders and mitigating chronic crime locations.
To determine staffing needs, Matrix calculated the total workload for the year by multiplying the 47,207 community-generated calls for service by the 61.8 minutes of workload per call.
Each call represents an average workload, including all time spent by the primary unit handling the call, the time spent by backup units, and any reports or other assignments completed with the incident.
The Richmond Police Department had 46,631 patrol hours available in 2021, according to Matrix. Dividing the 21,293 hours not spent responding to community-generated calls by the total 69,924 available hours results in a 30.5 percent proactive time, which is below the 35-40 percent target range.
“The results of this analysis indicate that the number of staff allocated to patrol is simply not enough,” the report stated.
The report noted Richmond has 93 authorized positions in the patrol bureau with 23 vacancies. Matrix recommended adding 31 new positions to bring the total authorized staff in the patrol bureau to 124. This includes 13 new officers, eight community services officers, and additional staff for commercial vehicle enforcement, impaired driving, and mental health professionals. Community Service Officers would respond to some non-emergency calls in the field.
The investigations unit previously had 50 detectives investigating domestic violence cases, homicides, and shootings. Today, the unit makes do with 14 investigators and six non-sworn staff. Matrix suggests increasing the team to 59 authorized staff, including four new homicide detectives for a total of 10. Seven detectives should be added to the domestic and sexual violence unit, according to the report. The general crimes unit would grow to 18 detectives by adding ten new positions.
“Of course, we are investigating homicides, but a lot of things don’t get the proper investigative inquiry that we would like to give it,” French said.
Richmond City Councilmember Doria Robinson said public safety staffing challenges have reached a critical stage.
“This unsustainable practice not only compromises the well-being, health, and safety of our dedicated officers and firefighters but also jeopardizes the safety and security of our community as a whole,” Robinson posted on her website.
At a recent neighborhood council meeting, Robinson said an overwhelmed and exhausted police officer shared the distressing reality of being on his 18th hour of duty.
“It is deeply concerning that individuals we entrust with the highest expectations are pushed to their limits due to mandatory overtime,” Robinson said.
Police and fire overtime is very costly, with the city averaging $807,746.14 per month or $8,885,208 each year.
“Just to be clear, this cost is in ADDITION to the normal budget allocation for public safety staffing, which already constitutes the biggest segment of the city staffing budget,” Robinson wrote.
A report on the Matrix study is expected at the next city council meeting on September 12.
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