Skip to content

Four Richmond Police Officers are to be terminated from the Richmond Police Department, the City Manager's office said in a statement on Monday. Photo by Grace Oyenubi.

Richmond police say pay increase needed to recruit, retain officers

on July 28, 2022

The Richmond Police Department is struggling to recruit and retain officers, leading to forced overtime and burnout.

It’s a problem that departments across the country are facing, as widespread police brutality cases have highlighted systemic problems. Adding to that in Richmond are a labor dispute and the absence of the department’s chief for nine months. 

The Richmond Police Officers Association has been in contract negotiations with the city since December. The current contract expired on June 30. Ben Therriault, RPOA president, said the association is trying to negotiate better compensation, as well as ways to address wellness and mental health. 

“We have our own market that we look at and then the city of Richmond has its own list of comparable cities that it has decided should be the ‘market,’” Therriault said. “In both of those markets or comparable cities, we’re in the bottom third of those respectable markets, and we think that to be competitive, we need to be at least in the middle or upper third of those markets.” 

In 2021, the Richmond Police Department had 26 officers leave for either retirement or other departments, according to a presentation Assistant Chief Louie Tirona made to the City Council in January. The presentation also showed the department’s difficulty in filling budgeted positions over the past eight years, even as staffing was reduced. In the 2014-15 fiscal year, the department budgeted for 196 officers but filled only 182 positions. In the 2021-2022 fiscal year, only 130 of the 145 budgeted positions were filled. On Tuesday, the City Council voted against adding 20 positions to the department.

By December 2023, 28 current officers will be eligible for retirement, and Tirona says filling those positions will not be easy. 

“​​You have every agency struggling to fill its own vacancies,” Tirona said. “And so it’s becoming much more of a market where good candidates see themselves and understand their worth.” 

Tirona said Richmond needs to be more competitive in that market. For example, he said, in Richmond, with a population of around 115,600, an officer with 10 years of experience earns $12,003 a month, while in Mountain View, with a population of 81,500, that officer would earn $14,017 a month.  

For recruits, the entire hiring process — from application through training, to being sworn in — takes around a year, meaning that even when good candidates are found and hired, there is a time lag before they can fully fill a vacancy. 

“That’s why I say a three-to-five-year window is going to be very critical for us,” Tirona said in an interview. “It’s going to take that long just to, in my opinion, fill the current vacancies that we have.”

Tirona led the department from October until July 18, when Chief Bisa French came off a nine-month administrative leave that she was put on after a relative and another person accused her of assault and threats. That disruption came as the department was entering into contract negotiations.

Council member Gayle McLaughlin said that the council is working hard to negotiate a fair contract. 

“We expect that there will be some raises for the RPOA and so that not only current officers but future officers will have a good salary,” McLaughlin said in an interview. “But we also want to make sure that the city doesn’t overextend itself. So we’re working through that and we think we will reach a fair settlement soon.”

Biden gives shout out to Richmond crime prevention program, citing it as model

Despite the vacancies, Richmond’s violent crime levels have trended downward since 2018.  McLaughlin credits a team effort by the police and community safety programs such as the Office of Neighborhood Safety, which was established in 2008. The intervention program, which launched when McLaughlin was mayor, came out of a push by the community. The program’s mission is to eliminate gun violence by reaching out to those who are likely to either be perpetrators or victims of it.

“The community understood that we need to address these root causes by giving people opportunities, jobs and get them into programs, you know, and address some of the conflicts that were happening in Richmond,” McLaughlin said.

Contra Costa County launched an intervention program in January that does not involve police. The Anyone Anywhere Anytime Community Crisis Response program aims to connect people in crisis with the care they need in a timely and clinically appropriate manner. Currently, A3 operates from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, with three response teams. In the next year and a half, A3 is expected to expand to 34 response teams and open a campus in Concord, which will include the A3 Miles Hall Crisis Call Center, urgent care, peer respite and a sobering center. 

Deborah Small, chair of Richmond’s Reimagining Public Safety Community Task Force, hopes these programs take away from the need for police in public health situations.  

“Unfortunately, there are too many examples of where police, because they’re not trained in how to deal with mental health problems, their very behavior escalates it in ways that makes it more likely that it will be violent,” Small said in a phone interview. 

The police department accounts for 28% of the city’s general fund this year, while the Office of Neighborhood Safety takes up less than 1%. McLaughlin said that in last year’s budget, the council shifted money from 12 vacant positions in the Police Department to programs and initiatives from the Reimagining Public Safety committee such as Neighborhood Safety, YouthWorks, unhoused intervention, and the A3 program. 

“These are aspects of public safety that go beyond the police,” she said.

Tirona hopes the expansion of these programs will alleviate some police calls, but he noted that removing police from schools has not kept schools from calling police, and that shifting some calls to mental health clinicians hasn’t always worked, because some have refused to go into certain areas without an officer.  

“Ultimately, have the police been kind of the go-to for too many of society’s ills? The answer is yes,” Tirona said. But to what degree the community-based programs will reduce police calls, he said, remains to be seen. 

“I’m not trying to exaggerate the need for the police, because I do think that, you know, we serve the community and the community is going to set its expectations and its needs, and that’s fine and that’s the way it should be,” Tirona said. “But we have to also recognize that there are violent and bad people in the world. And the police at the time are really the only entity that can handle that.” 

Small emphasized that people think the task force’s goal is to defund the police, and she says that at least for her, that is not the case. Instead, she said the focus needs to be on how to stop relying on the police to deal with issues such as drug use and the unhoused, which are primarily public health issues. 

“We need to get out of this mindset that we can police our way out of social problems,” she said. “All that does is more of the same.”


  1. JACOB on July 28, 2022 at 9:09 am

    Too little too late. Hire more cops, then hire another 30-50 cadets or “assistant police” who can help with blight, dumping, illegal parking, reckless driving and other minor violations that increase crime.

    If the residents do not have pride in their city, then they will give up. When people give up, the whole community falls apart.

Richmond Confidential welcomes comments from our readers, but we ask users to keep all discussion civil and on-topic. Comments post automatically without review from our staff, but we reserve the right to delete material that is libelous, a personal attack, or spam. We request that commenters consistently use the same login name. Comments from the same user posted under multiple aliases may be deleted. Richmond Confidential assumes no liability for comments posted to the site and no endorsement is implied; commenters are solely responsible for their own content.

Card image cap
Richmond Confidential

Richmond Confidential is an online news service produced by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism for, and about, the people of Richmond, California. Our goal is to produce professional and engaging journalism that is useful for the citizens of the city.

Please send news tips to

Latest Posts

Scroll To Top