Tom Butt
  E-Mail Forum – 2021  
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  "Please, do not defund our police"
May 8, 2021

I thought this was a particularly well written plea to not reduce the level of police funding in Richmond.

Dear Mayor Butt & Councilmembers:

I am writing to object to the plan to defund the police in Richmond which will effectively scrap the community policing policies and all the gains made over the last decade and a half. This plan has few, if any positives and if passed, will ultimately jeopardize the safety of the very people it proposes to protect.  

For years Richmond has worked to improve its crime rate and overcome the perception of a troubled, crime-ridden city. At its worst in the 1990s, Richmond was listed as one of the most dangerous cities in America and was a hotbed of gang activity, drive-by shootings, and assorted property and violent crimes. Relief came in the mid-2000s thanks to the community policing policies brought to us by police chief Chris Magnus and mayor Gayle Mclaughlin. The results, while not instant, were nothing short of a miracle. Suddenly, our city was a success, having greatly reduced its crime, improving the quality of life for its people. Richmond was now in the news for positive reasons, sending a clear message that community policing works. 

As cities across the country sought to replicate Richmond’s model program, and media organizations aplenty descended to tell the story. A quick google search supplies one with enough information for a dissertation:

“The community and the police have come together in Richmond to turn a town where no one talked to the police — for fear of being called a snitch — into a place where residents collect their  beat cops’ cell numbers and dance with them at street festivals. Magnus has worked especially hard to get Richmond’s immigrant community to work with the police. (USA Today Sept 23, 2015)

“Richmond had "38 homicides, 1,078 violent crimes and 7,090 property crimes" in 2004. In 2015, "those numbers were down to 11, to 833 and to 4,282, respectively. "How did Richmond do it? According to the assessments of local and national media, Magnus's emphasis on community policing laid the groundwork for the transformation.” (SFGATE June 19, 2020)

“Richmond police Lt. Shawn Pickett says Magnus changed the department from one that focused on “impact teams” of officers who roamed rough neighborhoods looking to make arrests to one that required all officers to adopt a “community policing” model, which emphasizes relationship building.” (West County Times, September 6, 2014)

On her most recent campaign website, our former mayor Gayle McLaughlin praises community policing and lists it as an accomplishment:

“Reduced homicides by 75% in eight years as Mayor – and crime in general – by promoting community policing.” LA Times in 2015 said this: “this minority-majority city has recorded its lowest homicide rate in 33 years. Officer-involved shootings are now rare: There have been two since Magnus came on board, whereas outside police agencies killed five men inside city limits during the same period.” (

The answer is clear; this is not about reimagining, it’s about defunding. Defunding is a political concept that has recently gathered steam within groups and is especially harmful in diverse communities that would undoubtedly be better served by stronger relationships with the police than the eradication of the department. Removing the police department in Richmond and replacing it with crisis teams and social workers who are not equipped to deal with the myriad of calls our dispatchers currently manage is foolish and detrimental to the people of Richmond. Likewise, insinuating that citizens are at risk for harm from the police -- a suggestion made by proponents who then resort to listing examples from outside of the city and often the state to validate their message, and then go on to argue the city is “over-policed” and this causes “harm to the community.” Community policing practices are the exact opposite of over-policing. Maybe some reading is in order?  

If successful defunding our police department will leave 111,323 people at the mercy of the very people who commit the crimes. The certain failure of the handful of “social workers” and assorted others hired to mitigate will ultimately lead to increased calls for mutual aid, bringing officers from other agencies--ones who may not have been trained in community policing practices, and may not be as connected to the community as RPD is. Is this what we want?

In a recent roundtable event, Chief French outlined a grim image of Richmond if the department were forced to reduce its budget. While the ability to investigate crime would be significantly hindered, departments such as traffic enforcement would cease to exist--another issue that a crisis team or social workers would not be able to manage. According to RPD, driving in Richmond is a dangerous business. Apparently, traffic accidents and dangerous driving is an area that could use some improvement, but they are working on it. How would “volunteers” manage this?

In 2006 Richmond had an FBI crime index of 714, In 2019 Richmond’s crime index was down to 467 (the national average is 270) and we had just 16 homicides. It took more than 15 years of diligent work by RPD to get to this point. Why would Richmond want or need to reimagine public safety?

Finally, this plan is not fair to the people who have invested in Richmond, and chosen to raise their families here. Leaving a city of 111,323 people without a full-time police department is unconscionable. This is a plan motivated by politics, not safety, and I urge you to reject it.

Thank you,
Linda Hemmila

The Reimagining Public Safety Task Force will be presenting their recommendations at a special City Council meeting at 6:30 PM on Monday, May 10. The agenda/packet for the Tuesday, May 10, 2021, Special Richmond City Council Meeting is available on the web. 

To view on the web, please use this link: