City News

Task Force to Reimagine Public Safety presents mayor with recommendations

Read the full report. 

On September 23, 2020, the Task Force to Reimagine Public Safety presented Mayor Levar Stoney with their initial recommendations after 45 days of discussing actionable proposals to make Richmond a safer city for all residents.
“After meeting with the co-chairs of the Task Force to Reimagine Public Safety and co-chairs of each of the subgroups, I am in consensus with their recommendations,” said Mayor Stoney. “They propose systems-level changes for the undeniably systemic challenges we face. The members are pushing our city in the right direction when it comes to broadening the definition of public safety and innovating our policies and programs accordingly.”
“I appreciate the comprehensive feedback and suggestions of this group of experts and community members,” said Chief of Police Gerald Smith. “Their attention to current policies and practices and innovative reform suggestions are a welcome starting point.”
The membership of the task force was announced on July 10. The first public group meeting was August 7, and the full body has met every two weeks since that date.
Subgroups of the task force include: Community Engagement and Healing, Human Service Lens for calls for service, and Use of Force. Each of the subgroups met weekly since August 7. 
The task force will present a final report to the mayor on November 5, 2020.
Said co-chair Officer Carol Adams of the work: “Our city’s entire public safety apparatus can best serve the community when we incorporate thoughtful input borne out of diverse life experiences. The work of this group reflects that charge.”
“Our work isn’t just about police. It’s about expanding the definition of public safety and public safety officers to include social service professionals and community members,” said co-chair Daryl Fraser. “If we don’t take a holistic approach, we’re doing ourselves a disservice.”
The initial recommendations are subject to change based on additional discussions within the task force, research, evaluations and/or legal review. 
Human Services Lens Subgroup
The subgroup suggests that a new routing system be developed so that mental health, conflict resolution, substance abuse and other non-criminal calls are addressed by appropriate community members and professionals. 
Routing systems should empower community members or police officers to forward calls outside of their area of expertise to the proper location. This may include working with the Office of Emergency Communications to develop a different triage system for 911 calls. 
This must also be accompanied by a community cultural shift in response to conflict. This may include more training programs in conflict de-escalation or the use of community ambassadors and other human services employees to intervene in non-criminal situations. 
“These are systems-level changes,” said subgroup co-chair Torey Edmonds. “Therefore, there must be accountability alongside those changes.”
The subgroup also suggests that the city utilize community assets and community members to contribute to a holistic human services and public safety program.
The suggestion acknowledges, and requires the larger community to acknowledge, the connection between poverty and a long list of community issues, including crime.
Human service providers must incorporate community members into the model of service and resource delivery for it to be successful. If it is untenable for members of affected communities to be recruited and trained for these positions, then those organizations must address the structural barriers holding community members back.
“We can’t think of public safety as just police officers,” said Edmonds. “We must tap into the community assets we have.”
Use of Force Subgroup
The Use of Force Subgroup has proposed six recommendations, which follow in italics.
Revisit the Richmond Police Department’s Use of Force policies to humanize interactions between officers and civilians.
The subgroup proposes emphasizing de-escalation, including a values statement in the policy and establishing a strong requirement to intervene when another officer acts unethically.
The group notes that despite the fact that the written policy meets national standards, uneven implementation and lack of familiarity with the use of force continuum leads to leads to discrepancies in service. 
Reimagine training practices to center ongoing education, outside expertise and dedicated time to learn de-escalation techniques.
The group suggests the RPD implement more frequent de-escalation training, begin a community training academy inspired by the Chicago Police Department and begin trauma-informed and cultural sensitivity trainings.
The subgroup plans to continue to explore more impartial training techniques, stringent hiring and bias screening processes and police culture shifts.
Increase communication, education and transparency.
The subgroup found that information about RPD policies and practices is sometimes is not readily available to the public. They recommend a number of public information improvements to eliminate misinformation and contextualize police actions in the community, including the use of graphics to illustrate the continuum of use of force.
The report suggests using the websites of Eugene, Oregon and Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s police departments as exemplars.
Part of transparency necessarily overlaps with understanding what use of force entails, on both the community and officer’s parts. The subgroup suggests training videos for officers include an explanation of what each level of force along the continuum feels like.
Improve accountability measures, which has been a special focus of the task force according to the subgroup’s report.
The subgroup fully supports the creation of an independent civilian review board with subpoena power, a project now housed with the Richmond City Council. The subgroup has developed other solutions to improve accountability within RPD. 
The subgroup recommends RPD create business cards for all officers to include professional information and a link to a complaint or compliment form online, mandating cards are provided to residents on certain calls for service.
“It is very difficult to make a complaint and expect that complaint to be fairly and justly adjudicated by police,” said subgroup co-chair Sheba Williams.
Therefore, the subgroup recommends creating an anonymous reporting system for residents to file complaints and providing for the public a complete account of the use of body camera footage policies. 
Create opportunities to improve officer mental health.
The group recommends shortening officer shifts from 12 hours to 10 hours, mental health and wellness check-ins for officers on a regular basis and beginning an award program for officers who perform in accordance with community standards on duty. 
On the mental health of officers, Williams noted: “We know trauma is encountered throughout a career. If that goes unaddressed, it affects the community.”
Standardize the approach language utilized by officers.
Approach language is the phraseology an officer uses as they begin interacting with a civilian during a call for service. The subgroup recommends standardizing this language because respectful, police language reduces negative encounters and decreases use of force.
Community Engagement and Healing
The Community Engagement and Healing subgroup decided to focus on three specific areas to consolidate a wealth of innovative recommendations: acknowledgement of harm; community engagement programs and initiatives; and support of public safety, policy and practice changes that increase public trust and accountability.
One of the subgroup’s suggestions is the creation of community conferencing circles. The model is a culturally responsive diversion program mediating disputes and addressing concerns without conflict. 
Said subgroup co-chair Ram Bhagat on the proposal: “Community conferencing is a community based restorative process designed to empower community residents with their own means of resolving disputes that would otherwise be settled by traditional adjudicatory courses of action.”
The subgroup also proposed the founding of a Center for Racial and Social Justice. This would serve as a clearinghouse for training and conflict mediation for all parties, from officers to civilians to city employees.
Contextualizing the subgroup’s plan is the Massive Resilience framework, a process that begins with understanding of past and present harm and builds to community-wide healing. Community engagement and public safety policy and practice changes are vital to building Massive Resilience.
Click here to read the full report.