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Richmond police force understaffed heading into 2020

on December 10, 2019

The Richmond Police Department is slated to start off the New Year understaffed and with slim hopes of filling the employment gap before the end of the second quarter of 2020.

Interim Police Chief Bisa French said that, within the last few months, the department hired five new officers, two of whom are women, as well as two new cadets. This comes as good news at a time when French said the department has been expecting 10 of its officers to leave the force by the end of the year.

“We’re seeing more people applying, and I think in the long run we’ll see whether it pays off” in new hires, she added.

French explained the expected departures are due to both natural retirement and an exodus to companies and agencies like BART that can provide a better financial package than the police department. French said she’s been trying to work with the police department’s human resources experts to enhance financial packages to keep current and prospective officers at the department.

Currently, the department isn’t sitting still about this issue but instead has already begun working on its new campaign to revamp its social media presence to better reach out to potential officers.

Richmond citizens don’t have to worry about a decrease in police presence throughout the city, according to the interim chief. Even with the current number of officers, French said, there will be no decrease in the police presence on patrol.

However, according to Chairman David Brown of the Richmond Citizen Police Review Commission, the department will have to remove officers from special units or temporarily close the units in order to keep the minimum quota for daily patrols. According to Brown, the Richmond Police Department is about 20 officers short.

“I consider it to be the chief’s job … to get the department up to full staffing,” Brown said. “We need to hire more competent and qualified officers and get them on the street.”

When asked whether the department could fill its ranks by the end of the second quarter next year, Brown said he doesn’t think it will happen. It can take some time to get new officers in the department, he explained. There’s a lot of background work and training, at the police academy, that has to happen to create a cop. If the department could reduce its vacancies to 15, that would be a step in the right direction, Brown said.

Other commissioners had their own worries about the department, for example, the amount of work that the limited number of officers will have to handle due to the tight staffing conditions.

In her report to the commission on December 4, French said the workload is divided between two groups. One group would work nine-and-a-half-hour shifts between Monday and Thursday. The second group would work 12.5-hour shifts between Friday and Sunday. In response, the commissioners questioned whether the department’s police would be able to work at a satisfactory level under an almost 13-hour workday.

French reassured the commission that, even under these conditions, she was working to preserve both the mental and physical health of her officers.

“What I plan to do, in the New Year,” she said, “is to give city council a presentation to let them know where the city is in staffing, and let them know the reasons, and make informed [decisions] about how we work collectively as a city to recruit people to come to the Richmond Police Department.”  

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