Attorney General hopes to make Richmond a national model
on September 24, 2015
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch is coming to Richmond on Friday to highlight the city as a national example of how to repair trust between citizens and the police.
Richmond law enforcement officials confirmed that the Attorney General is making numerous visits with members of law enforcement, community groups and court officials in an effort to see first hand successful community policing programs, violence reduction strategies and efforts to connect with youth.
Lynch, the first African-American woman to hold the position, comes to Richmond as the last stop of a multi-city tour. The Attorney General’s website describes the trip as an effort to “highlight some of the most promising work that citizens and law enforcement are doing together to build new foundations of trust, respect and mutual understanding.” In addition to Richmond, Lynch has visited Cincinnati, Birmingham, Pittsburgh, Seattle and East Haven, Connecticut.
Richmond has drawn praise for its dramatic reduction in violent crime. The community policing efforts under Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus and the Office of Neighborhood Safety have attracted national headlines.
Barry Krisberg, senior fellow at the University of California at Berkeley law school, and author of books on race and the juvenile justice system, said there was little mystery as to why Lynch chose to visit Richmond as a way to promote effective community policing.
Magnus is on the right track, Krisberg said.
“Richmond has bar none the best police chief in the state and arguably in the country,” he said. “If you were looking for what police ought to do, I would send you to Richmond.”
Magnus could help national leaders inspire changes around the country in the culture of policing.
“He has made radical and dramatic changes to a corrupt and lawless department and turned it into a model of community policing,” Krisberg said.
Local community groups say work remains to be done to establish trust between police and citizens. Feelings are still raw, for instance, over the shooting death of Richard “Pedie” Perez III during a scuffle a year ago with a Richmond police officer absolved of wrongdoing.
A local group, The Oscar Grant Committee against Police Brutality and State Repression, announced plans to distribute flyers outside one of Lynch’s speaking events on Friday. The group sent an open letter to Lynch ahead of her visit, urging her to look into the Perez case.
“Although the Contra Costa County District Attorney has called this a ‘justifiable homicide,’ it is clear that evidence and witnesses were ignored in reaching this conclusion,” the letter alleges. “This denial of justice to the Perez family has contributed to a growing sense of distrust of the police in Richmond and surrounding Bay Area communities.”
Contra Costa County Public Defender Robin Lipetzky, who will be participating in a roundtable discussion with Lynch on community policing, discussed disparities within the local courts and the need for reform during an interview Tuesday in her Martinez office.
She insists that the courts are tilted against poor people and minorities. Now, she hopes to highlight this problem during Lynch’s visit.
“The presumption of innocence has gone out the window. It’s about who has money and who doesn’t–if you don’t have money you stay in jail, “Lipetzky said. “All you have to do is sit in the Contra Costa Courthouse for a day and see who comes in to know that we have a problem.”
Contra Costa County District Attorney Mark Peterson hopes to make Lynch aware of his agency’s contribution to reducing violence and addressing truancy in the school system. But it’s a complex picture in some ways.
Crime during the past decade has dropped significantly in Richmond, but lately there has been an uptick. The city has had 13 homicides so far in 2015, for instance, compared with 11 in all of 2014.
“It concerns us,” Peterson said. “We’re trying to figure out why it occurred, but it’s hard to draw conclusions from such little data.”
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