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  The Scanner: Richmond’s police blues
December 24, 2018

The Scanner: Richmond’s police blues, bunk brunches and the Teddy Bear Bandit

Sarah Ravani , Gwendolyn Wu and Steve Rubenstein Dec. 24, 2018 Updated: Dec. 24, 2018 8 a.m.
Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown spoke to the City Council last week about an internal report that offered a bleak assessment of the relationship between top administrators and the city’s police union.Photo: Paul Chinn / The Chronicle 2017

The thorny relationship between the Richmond Police Department and its union was laid bare during a City Council meeting Tuesday, when the union president slammed the police chief and city manager for refusing to meet with him.

The public outcry comes in the wake of an internal report — made public in November — that described the Police Department as having an “acrimonious relationship” with the Police Officers Association.

Ben Therriault, president of the police union, expressed confusion during the council meeting over a lack of communication between the parties and said the tenuous situation has left officers feeling unrecognized and undervalued.

“The fact that we haven’t had a meeting about (the report) is troublesome,” Therriault told The Chronicle.

City Manager Carlos Martinez presented the council with the report Tuesday, and he said the findings were mostly accurate, including details about the department’s broken relationship with the union.

Multiple council members, as well as Mayor Tom Butt, repeatedly asked Martinez and Police Chief Allwyn Brown whether they discussed the report with the union, as well as other internal policy changes that the department is considering.

Both men said meetings had taken place but were not specifically about the issues raised in the report. Therriault said those meetings never happened.

The union, chief and city manager were scheduled for a meeting Dec. 13, but it was canceled for unknown reasons. The police union reacted to the cancellation by accusing city leadership of creating a “filibuster” rather than addressing issues in the report, according to emails obtained by The Chronicle.

“I just don’t understand since this has been talked about since October,” Butt said. “You haven’t just had one confirmed meeting so everybody can get their opinions out on the table. Dismissing their request for a meeting is throwing fuel on the fire.”

The report details the Police Department’s toxic work environment and suggests a lack of leadership is partly to blame. More specifically, Therriault said, the issues within the department go beyond the need for a “culture shift.”

Officers have not been promptly paid overtime, and they’ve been forced to sign letters of discipline under penalty of insubordination, Therriault said. Some pregnant officers were denied their seniority perks, he asserted.

Martinez promised the council he would start including the union in meetings with himself and Brown, particularly when it comes to policy changes that the department faces.

“At the end of the day, we are on the same team,” Martinez said. “We are in front of the public dancing this dance. If we are stepping on each others toes it doesn’t look good. It behooves all of us to come together.”

The dispute comes as the family of Rashanda Franklin, who was slain in April 2017 allegedly by her abusive ex-boyfriend, prepares to file a lawsuit saying Richmond police failed to protect the victim after she called for help the night before her death. Brown has said the officers who responded that night acted properly.