Richmond police captain works hard to build public trust
on September 26, 2020
As a 23-year veteran of the Richmond Police Department, Police Capt. Al Walle remembers a fair share of stories but the memory of a toddler in diapers tends to stick out.
A routine call during Walle’s second year on the force led him to an apartment where a child tugged at his pant leg while calling out to the policeman.
The boy’s mother quickly grabbed her child and swatted him on the butt.
“What did I tell you about talking to the fucking police,” Walle recalled hearing from the mother.
“I knew that kid for one is going to have a negative impression of what the police are all about,” Walle said.
That’s when the Richmond native realized the hurdles he would have to overcome to improve trust between the community and his department.
“We’re going to make mistakes, own up to them and try to be better,” Walle said. “I think because of that, we really have a good relationship with our community members.”
Fast forward to 2020.
The number of homicides has dropped in Richmond. According to the FBI Crime Data Explorer (CDE), the average homicide rate in Richmond from 2008 to 2018 was 23.3 per year. The highest number of homicides was reported in 2009 at 47, according to the CDE site, and the lowest was reported in 2017 at 10.
In September 2015, former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch applauded the city as a national model for how law enforcement should interact with the community. “Change is not only possible, but it happens,” Lynch said in the NBC Bay Area article. “And I think Richmond is an example.”
Nationally, however, trust in law enforcement appears low, especially after a May 2020 video captured the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. Floyd’s death became a rallying cry for social justice activists who say police too often use excessive force – sometimes deadly force – against Black Americans and other people of color. The most recent case involves Breonna Taylor, an innocent woman who died in Louisville, Kentucky when police fired into her home during a no-knock warrant search.
On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted a former Louisville police detective on charges of reckless endangerment for his role in the search but the two officers who shot Taylor faced no charges. That has led to nationwide protests led by activists who are calling for police reform and even defunding the police in some cases.
Walle understands how important it is to assure the public that police are being fair and transparent. He is working to strengthen community relations by engaging with local neighborhood councils and posting daily on his personal Facebook page to inform residents about recent crime in the city.
“I like to post our wins and losses to give people a sense of what it’s like to be a police officer and our current challenges,” Walle said.
Richmond Police Capt. Tim Simmons, who arrived from the Contra County Sheriff’s Office 13 years ago, supports Walle’s push for more community engagement.
“We work for them (residents),” Simmons said. “So our goal is to figure out the most efficient and effective way to connect with the folks in the city and keep them safe.”
Walle is currently working on a plan to develop a chief advisory board, a group of roughly 20 community members who will meet with the Richmond Chief of Police Bisa French monthly to discuss local issues.
French, who was appointed chief in July, recently took part in a community conversation intended for residents to learn more about Richmond’s current state of public safety. In an article by the Richmond Pulse, French talked mostly about the impacts of understaffing, including how the department has lost about 100 employees over the last years, going from 301 staff members to 204.
“We just aren’t able to provide the level of service we had with 200 officers,” French said in the article.
Walle is hoping that the advisory board will give people future opportunities to engage with French and other police officers.
This is a “great forum for us to engage with the community on a more personal level and on a regular basis,” Walle said. “It’ll be like a sounding board for the chief and a think tank for the community members to work on different projects.”
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