Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2020  
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  A Reduced Police Force?
June 30, 2020

Less than a year ago, in a citywide survey, 92 percent of Richmond residents rated “reducing crime and disorder” as “essential” or “very important.” Another 6 percent added “somewhat important.” Only 2 percent responded with “not at all important.” Tonight, the City Council will consider an item placed on the agenda by Councilmembers Myrick and Johnson to “re-evaluate the police budget and to prepare a transition to a reduced police force by the end of the next fiscal year 2020-21.”

The clamor to “defund police,” whether it means literally abolishing police, or as many explain, to rethink policing, should not be done in haste with a predetermined outcome.

The Richmond Community Police Review Commission is already taking up consideration of the “8 can’t wait” policy recommendations to reduce undesirable outcomes of police interactions. See Community Police Review Commission to Take Up "8 Can't Wait" on July 1, June 27, 2020.

I have appointed an ad hoc committee that includes Councilmember Johnson to start looking at potential changes to our current policing model. It will begin meeting next week. As a starting point, I have asked Interim Chief French to provide some foundational information about our current Police Department. Part of the challenge, I believe, is that the public does not have a clear idea what the police department does.

Based on 2019 activities, I have requested:

  • Break down the percentage of total police time and the corresponding budget by activities and tasks. That way, people can be asked what tasks they want to eliminate, if any. Categories should include, at least, traffic violations, responding to and investigating violent crimes and shootings, responding to and investigating property crimes such as car break-ins and burglaries, community outreach such as neighborhood council meetings and community picnics, simply patrolling neighborhoods, Police Activity League, etc.
  • Break down the rate at which various crimes are solved and result in an arrest.
  • Break down the categories of calls for services and the actual incidents to which RPD responds. How much time, for example, (and how much budget) is devoted to people affected by homelessness and people with mental health problems?
  • Review the crime statistic trends over the last decade by category. Crime continues to drop, but is that due to effective policing, or is it simply part of a national trend? If there is less crime, do we need fewer police, or do we have less crime because we have more police?
  • Review the history of use of force complaints over the past decade heard by the CPRC and their outcomes. What are the trends?
  • Address why Richmond has such a relatively high cost per capita for police and why that is justified.
  • Address RPD overtime and what it would take to substantially reduce it.
  • Address the “8 can’t wait” policies and what it would take to adopt them

To put this in something I understand -- architectural terms – If you want to build a better house, you don’t start by tearing down the one you have. You list your objectives and inventory your resources. You probably look around to see what other people are doing that might be worth replicating. You take some time to prepare a plan and a budget based on what your needs and desires are. At the end of the day, you may find that all you need and can afford is some remodeling. It may not be your dream house, but it meets most of your expectations.

What would a “reduced police force” look like, and what would it do and not do? Even without further reductions, we already have a reduced police force that will shrink even further if the proposed 2020-21 budget is adopted. It was only a few years ago that we embraced “community policing,” a practice that was intended to build better relationships between police and community and provide better outcomes. Now, some are saying that is an outdated model that we can no longer afford.

The impact of the proposed budget is described by Interim Chief Bisa French in an email sent this morning, as follows:

Mayor Butt and City Councilmen, 

As we continue on this journey to balance the budget, I wanted you all to be aware of the impacts to the police department thus far.  

In terms of positions, through this budget process 33 positions have been “frozen” for the next fiscal year.  Twenty (20) of those 33 positions are sworn positions.  This brings our sworn staffing levels to 50 less officers than we had in recent years.  Due to staffing challenges that we had over the past two years, a department re-organization was implemented in January with the primary focus of fully staffing our patrol teams.  We implemented the 4/10-3/12 schedule with a total of five patrol teams.   In order to fully staff these teams we had to suspend several other units to include our foot/bike unit, public information team, and we reduced staffing in our special investigations unit.  The goal was to fully staff the five patrol teams with at least 12 officers each, and as positions were filled, we were going to add the sixth patrol team to the 3/12 schedule, and resurrect the other specialty units that were suspended.  

We will now have to forgo our plans and make do with the limited staffing we have on hand.  This also means that we will not be able to resurrect our foot/bike team.  This team was responsible for addressing quality of life issues and neighborhood problems such as prostitution, drug houses, fireworks, etc.. These duties will now have to be absorbed by the beat officers when they are not answering calls for service.  This will have a significant impact to the services our community has come to expect.  

We currently field approximately 238 calls per day.  When officers aren’t on a call, they provide extra patrol, conduct car stops, and write reports.  There isn’t a lot of time for them to dedicate to long term problem solving.  We are working on strategies to meet the needs of our community with the reduced staffing levels.  

Additional service impacts will include our inability to attend neighborhood council meetings and other community events as many of these were attended on overtime.  Additionally, we are in the process of evaluating our calls for service to determine which calls we are no longer going to respond to in person and will require complainants to file on line reports or wait for a cadet to take a report when they are available.  

Essentially, we are being forced to move away from many of the community policing efforts we’ve worked on over the past 10 years because of our inability to sustain these efforts with our current staffing levels and reductions in overtime.

Our CCTV program was in the process of being revamped but has now been cut from the budget.  The closed circuit televisions will not be monitored on a consistent basis although they will continue to record.  We are currently utilizing officers on light duty to monitor the cameras when they aren’t fielding telephone reports.  

I am very concerned about losing the lieutenant position.  Part of the department re-organization was a result of complaints made by the POA regarding oversight by lieutenants.  The issue of lieutenant oversight was also addressed in the MBD Innovations report; “ The current organizational structure fosters an operational disconnect from management (lieutenants and above) and first line staff. For functions such as police departments with 24-hour operations, the structure of management plays a substantive role on how vertically connected the organization is. In the case of the RPD, the current structure of management does not promote connectivity between the ranks of sergeant and lieutenant.”  The loss of the lieutenants position sets us back from the recommendations of the report as well as oversight of our officers and sergeants.  This is further complicated by the fact that we have a lieutenant on long term injury leave.  This leaves us with two critical lieutenant positions unable to be filled. 

During last weeks council meeting, the unions proposed freezing the remaining police department positions which includes two dispatch positions, a senior accountant and records specialist. The impacts to freezing these positions are as follows:

We answer 911 calls for over 120,000 residents 24/7 with 2 or sometimes 3 people fielding calls while they also dispatch over the radio.  Our dispatch center fields between 23,000 to 25,000 calls per month with 7,000-9,000 of these calls on 911.  We are mandated by the state to answer 95% of 911 calls with 15 seconds.  Based on our call volume, the state recommendation during certain hours is 4 dispatchers solely answering calls (not working the radio as in our center). Due to the shortage in staffing, every week there is at least 150 hours of mandatory overtime to meet minimum staffing needs.  If a dispatcher is out on vacation (up to two are allowed off at any given time) additional mandatory overtime hours are created.  These overtime vacancies are currently being filled by officers and dispatchers.  Freezing these two dispatcher positions will result in mandatory overtime for the entire fiscal year making it impossible to stay within the reduced overtime budget.  Dispatchers will continue to leave our communications center (several left last year as a result of burnout from mandatory overtime) to work for other cities that do not mandate overtime. 

There is one vacant records specialist position.  Two positions in the records unit were lost in recent years due to previous budget challenges.  Without the remaining position, mandatory overtime will be forced on the remaining records specialists to maintain 24/7 staffing levels. 

Senior Accountant:
Another vital position in the police department is the accountant position.  The police department has historically had  a senior accountant as well as an accountant II assigned to oversee the largest budget in the city.  Currently, neither position is filled.  Due to the vacancies, we’ve already incurred financial losses.  Additionally, many of the grants we obtain require a chief financial officer to oversee the accounting functions of the grant.  

Vehicle Replacement:
The vehicle replacement recommendation was initially to replace 28 vehicles.  These included Chevy Caprices and Ford Crown Victoria’s that range from 8-12 years old.  Some of these vehicles have over 185k miles on them.  The revised vehicle replacement recommendation was to replace 16 vehicles at a cost of 880,000.  Per your direction, I worked with public works to determine which vehicles would absolutely need to be replaced as soon as possible. We determined that we could keep the Ford Crown Victorias in service for an additional year but we need to replace 10 Chevy Caprices at a total coast of 600k.  These vehicles were made in Australia solely for a police vehicle purpose.  Chevy has since stopped making these vehicles and finding parts is extremely difficult.  When parts are found, they have to be ordered from Australia and take several months before they’re shipped.  

Other Budget Facts:

In addition to the positions that have been frozen for the next fiscal year, the police department has also lost an additional $2.1 million in other services.  The reductions thus far for positions and services amount to over 8 million dollars, or over 10% of the total pd budget.  

83% of the budget is salary and benefits

Over $500,000 Is dedicated to non-enforcement related services such as PAL, FJC & homelessness. 

Close to $3 million is dedicated to contracts that the pd has no control over (animals services & building rental & utilities)

I fully understand the need for the council to pass a balanced budget during tomorrow nights council meeting.  The purpose of this email is to help you make an informed decision regarding additional police department cuts.  Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns. 

Bisa French
Interim Police Chief
Richmond Police Department

Richmond to re-evaluate, consider reducing police budget

By JON KAWAMOTO | | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: June 29, 2020 at 1:56 p.m. | UPDATED: June 30, 2020 at 6:19 a.m.

RICHMOND — Just three weeks after Mayor Tom Butt raised the idea of defunding the police — sparking immediate criticism from his Richmond City Council colleagues, city employees and unions — the issue is back before the Richmond City Council.

On Tuesday, the council is set to discuss a proposal by council members Jael Myrick and Demnius Johnson to re-evaluate the police budget and to prepare a transition to a reduced police force by the end of the next fiscal year 2020-21.

Calls to defund police departments across the nation have been gaining momentum after the Minneapolis City Council on June 26 unanimously approved a plan to eliminate the city’s police department and replace it with a community-based public safety system. The action in Minneapolis comes after more than a month of nationwide protests against police brutality after the Memorial Day police killing of George Floyd.

“Many cities are currently looking at different models of policing in response to the current movement that is demanding municipalities to change priorities as it relates to public safety,” said Myrick and Johnson in a staff report. Both said addressing the issues “can not only improve relations between police and our community but also provide the savings necessary for Richmond to solve its structural budget issues.”

The police department currently makes up 40 percent — or about $70 million — of the city’s annual budget.

Myrick and Johnson said by transitioning to a reduced police staff, “we could potentially save millions of dollars.” They noted that Richmond continues to struggle with a long-term deficit and said “we know that more substantial decisions will need to be made to bring our budget into structural balance.”

The upcoming fiscal year budget reduces police overtime by $1 million and doesn’t add to the force. “This is a recipe for failure unless our policing model is changed into one that can function with a much smaller police force,” the two council members said.

According to the council members, the current “community policing” model worked when the city had a force of nearly 200 officers — it now has less than 150. And they said it’s doubtful the city can return to the former staffing levels because of the economy.

“This means that to prevent ballooning overtime costs alone, it will be necessary for the city of Richmond to change its policing model,” they said.

On June 9, Mayor Tom Butt raised the idea of defunding the police — and was immediately criticized by some Richmond City Council members, who called him out for joking to defund police, and later, the city employees and labor unions. The city workers and labor unions held a June 16 car caravan around Richmond Civic Center to protest Butt’s comments.

“The Contra Costa Labor Council, AFL-CIO and Richmond City Employee Unions copied herein (Fire Fighters Local 188, IFPTE Local 21, RPOA, RPMA and SEIU Local 1021) denounce and decry the mayor’s tone-deaf, irresponsible and unreasonable actions at the Richmond City Council meeting on Tuesday, June 9,” the unions said in a June 11 statement. “When the community stands up, proclaims Black Lives Matte, and demands change, that community deserves better than a mayor sarcastically making a motion to do away with Richmond’s police force.”

Butt responded to the statement issued by Joseph J. Summers, of the Contra Costa Labor Council. “I take issue with you characterizing my motion to ‘defund the police’ as ‘tone-deaf, irresponsible and unreasonable’ as well as ‘sarcastic,’ ” Butt said in an email.

“Collectively, city council members and I have received thousands of emails demanding that we do exactly that, defund the police department, far more than on any other budget-related issue. Granted, such a request is extreme, and no one knows exactly how it might work. But we need to have a conversation about issues, alternatives and budgeting related to the police department, and my intent was to start it,” he wrote.

In addition, on Wednesday, the Richmond Community Police Review Commission will consider the “8 Can’t Wait” recommendations on police department policies, including de-escalating tensions; banning chokeholds or carotid restraints, and shooting at moving vehicles; and exhausting all other alternatives before using deadly force.