Tom Butt
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June 22, 2021

The Sworn Officer Table should read 145 in 2022 instead of 154.

Homicides are on the rise again in Richmond, and we have the Richmond Progressive Alliance City Council members to thank for it. Like the Pottery Barn rule, “You break it, you buy it.” It’s time for the RPA to own what they have done to demolish public safety in Richmond.

Figure 1 - 3 dead, 5 injured after shooting at Richmond party advertised on Facebook

When Gayle McLaughlin was mayor in 2014, she bragged that her leadership had reduced homicides by 75%. While it may have been her visionary leadership, it was more likely Chief Chris Magnus and his robust program of nationally recognized community policing. In 2015, Chief Magnus reported to the Richmond Heights Neighborhood Council:

Attorney General Loretta Lynch is coming to Richmond in September. She is visiting a handful of cities throughout the country and chose to visit Richmond. We’re up to 196 sworn officers. Up from 145 when he started. He thinks ideally the RPD should have 212 – 215 officers but they haven’t had the full 196 for a while. This is due to budgetary problems. They are now authorized to hire 185, which includes everyone from the newest officer going through the academy all the way up to the chief. About half the total number of sworn officers are actually assigned to patrol because there are many other functions, including investigations, training, etc. Even out of those assigned to patrol a lot of people are not actually on the street due to a variety of causes: people get hurt, have long-term disability, family medical leave, vacation, training. Because the RPD is really short-staffed officers get burned out. They are often forced to work over, called in on scheduled days off, asked to work more overtime than they want. He encourages us to keep this in mind as the City Council decides what their priorities are. None of the new sales tax revenue has come to the Police Department. They are at a low point that is discouraging and creating a challenge. They are a young, energetic department but many officers are at the start of their careers so they are motivated to move around, work in various assignments."

With a City Council increasingly hostile to police after Chris Magnus left for Tucson, the number of sworn officers began to decrease after 2014, and the number of homicides began to increase. When Melvin Willis ran for mayor in 2018, he stated, “My goal is to cut the police budget by 20%.” From 2016 to 2020, the number of sworn officers dropped to 157, partially due to anticipated effects of COVID-19 on revenue, which ultimately proved to be too pessimistic. The Richmond Progressive Alliance could not have been happier; Willis and the RPA got their wish, and  COVID-19 was doing to job of cutting police for them.

On the same night that the City Council adopted the FY 2020-21 budget, the City Council majority moved away from the very successful community policing model and went down a path of continued cuts to the police. The Agenda Report read, “In The matter to direct staff to prepare a plan to transition from Richmond's current ‘community policing’ model to a plan conducive to the reduced police force and return to Council with the preferred policing model and a plan for implementation by the end of Fiscal Year 2020/2021 was presented by Councilmembers Myrick and Johnson III.”

As the number of sworn police diminished, homicides went up, doubling just the next year in 2015. When Magnus testified before the UUS Senate in December 2018, he emphasized the value of community policing in building trust and relationships with the neighborhoods:

The horrific shooting last night that resulted in three deaths occurred when the number of budgeted sworn officers is 157, almost the 20% target Melvin Willis campaigned for in 2018, and in 10 days, that will drop further to 145.

From KTVU:

"One man at the scene who did not want to be identified said in Spanish that his uncle was one of those killed.
"I'm sad," he said. "There's nothing else we can do, just pray to God. What happened? I don't know. It's my uncle, so I have a big pain in my heart, and no one can take that pain away, only God.
He also is fearful witnesses will not come forward.
"No one will say who it was, what they did. No one. They fled and they went home," he said.
Police have not made any arrests or revealed any more details including a possible motive. "

This problem is exactly why adequately funded community policing was so important in Richmond, and why it was so successful when we funded it. Now we are back to 100 witnesses, all of whom were present, and none of whom saw anything:

Calendar Year

Sworn Officers

























11 to date




This article was written by RPA's Steve Early back in December 2014, when the RPA was taking credit for Magnus' success with community policing (the polar opposite of their now-current position to defund Magnus' legacy):

Police Chief Chris Magnus has been widely credited with enacting the reforms that led to these changes. In recognition of Richmond’s progress, and Magnus’ role in it, the U.S. Department of Justice recently added him to a panel of experts investigating the breakdown of police-community relations in Ferguson, Missouri.
Magnus began the process of change by reshuffling the department’s command structure and promoting like-minded senior officers. He also ended the practice of putting “street teams” into high crime neighborhoods, where they would “roust anybody who’s out walking around, with the idea that they might have a warrant outstanding or be holding drugs,” Magnus says.

In his view, that approach only serves to “alienate the whole population that lives in those neighborhoods,” most of whom are “good people not engaged in crime.”