Richmond police detail crime trends and staffing vacancies

Richmond police detail crime trends and staffing vacancies
Richmond Police investigated a double homicide in front of a smoke shop on 23rd Street last year.

Richmond Police report increases in robberies and sexual assaults amid continued staffing concerns at the Community Police Review Commission meeting on March 6.

Richmond Police Chief Bisa French said robberies often involve individuals targeted after using ATMs, particularly in downtown areas and around bank locations. Sexual assaults have seen a significant increase without clear patterns, but some cases involve named suspects or are related to prostitution.

“For the sexual assaults, I was surprised because it was a significant increase. We went from three the prior period in January to 16 last month,” French said. “I had my crime analysis doing some digging, and there weren’t any patterns like a serial rapist or something like that. Some of them have named suspects. Some did involve prostitution-related activities.”

French said robberies in February increased from 18 to 23, with a pattern emerging where people were robbed after leaving ATMs.

“At certain banks, they are followed for a block or couple blocks, and when stopped at a red light, someone breaks their passenger window and steals the purse that is on the seat with the money that was just withdrawn from the ATM or inside the bank,” French said.

Several robbery victims were robbed after visiting banks near San Pablo Avenue and the Macdonald Avenue corridor, as well as in the northern district around Hilltop Mall. The department has warned residents to be alert following a series of smash-and-grab robberies targeting people who have withdrawn cash from ATMs. 

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Commissioners shared their concern about the proliferation of smoke shops in the city. Chair Carol Hegstrom reported three smoke shops within blocks of her home, while Commissioner Oscar Garcia said he noticed many gunfire detection alerts in front of smoke shops. 

“I’ve noticed all of these smoke shops throughout central downtown Richmond,” Garcia said. “These smoke shops are attracting some of the loitering and some of the shootings.”

French said the department has seen crime around smoke shops throughout the city, including a triple shooting in October where two people died in front of a 23rd Street smoke shop.

“If you remember, we had a double homicide that was right in front of a smoke shop. People were going into the smoke shop when they were shot to death.”

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Updated October 7 at 5:51 p.m. Richmond Police have confirmed a second victim has died in the 23rd Street shooting Friday night. Officers located three victims suffering from gunshot wounds in the 900 block of 23rd Street after receiving a ShotSpotter alert from the city’s gunfire detection

French said police get calls for people fighting and a myriad of issues around several of the smoke shops. The department no longer has a unit that regulates tobacco retailers in the city because of low staffing.

RPD has 29 officer vacancies, according to the chief. While the department has been hiring and has eight officers in the police academy, French said nine officers are also expected to retire this year. 

“The hiring and training processes take quite a bit of time to complete. We won’t realize those bodies until later this year,” French said.

Richmond Police Officers Association President Ben Therriault said staffing is the top priority, but with retirements and people not passing training, the department has only seen a small increase in the number of officers. 

“For cops on the street, we are still kind of inching ahead. Hopefully, that will increase,” Therriault said.” Changing the stigma around Richmond and getting people to come and work here is something we are all working towards.”

Therriault said there’s a discrepancy between the perception of crime and the actual trends. While there’s been a decrease in homicides, other forms of crime, particularly shootings, have increased. 

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“There is a narrative out there that crime isn’t an issue in Richmond. I have a really hard time with that,” Therriault said. “You have to see trends before we want to say everything is moving in the right direction.”

Therriault said while last year’s low homicide number was great, some people think because homicides are down, the shootings are also down. 

“It is actually the opposite. In 2022, there were 42 people who were shot. That is 42 residents in our city who were shot. In 2023, there were 51 people who were shot–that was an increase,” Therriault said. 

Therriault emphasized that homicide rates should not solely measure the city’s public safety. Overall, crime levels in the city are significantly higher compared to other cities in the county.

“It is not the number Concord has, and they have more people than Richmond. It is not what Antioch has. It is not what Walnut Creek has. So we need to do a better job, and a lot of that has to do with staffing,” Therriault said.”

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