RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - NBC12 is taking a closer look at Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones' security detail provided by the Richmond Police Department and funded with public tax dollars.
During this year's budget negotiations, the debate got quite heated at times--should the city pay for security for Mayor Dwight Jones or would that money be better spent on other Richmond problems? In the end, several hundred thousand dollars for his protection ended up in the budget and as discussions begin for next year, it's unclear if those numbers will change.
Of the $1.4 billion city budget, $288,128 of it goes to the line item for the people who protect the mayor. There are three officers from the Richmond Police Department who "guard" Mayor Dwight Jones. You may have seen them around town driving Mayor Jones to appearances and press conferences as he runs the city.
If you go down to Richmond City Hall though, you'll see very little security. There are no metal detectors at the public building, which is open to anyone during business hours.
Just last month, a scare prompted concerns. Police say Nathaniel Burwell refused to leave the mayor's office. Police later found a hatchet in a bag Burwell had left at the security desk. He was convicted of trespassing. A spokesperson for the mayor tells us the incident prompted a review of safety measures.
We wanted to know how Mayor Jones' security team compares to mayors in other Virginia cities. We checked in with the mayors of two localities that are actually larger than the capital city.
Mayor Paul Fraim of Norfolk is also elected. His office tells NBC12 he does not have a security detail. The same goes for Mayor Will Sessoms in Virginia Beach--he is appointed by city council members, but also does not have protection. Neither, however, is part of a strong-mayor system like Richmond.
Spokeswoman for Mayor Jones, Tammy Hawley, tells us his administration reduced the unit by more than half since taking office in 2009, which has saved more than $450,000.
In an emailed statement she said, "We have worked with the Richmond Police Department to balance threat assessment with the recommended deployment of resources in a capital city. At this time, we continue to operate with a scaled-back security detail."
RPD purchased one vehicle to drive Jones around town in 2009, which cost $42,357.91 Another SUV was purchased in 2011 for $49,999.99.
City Council President Charles Samuels says the majority of council members approved the numbers for this year.
"If the police chief thought this was an appropriate use of his funding we should respect the head of that department," he explained of the thought behind the vote.
But, given the figures we showed him from other cities, we asked if that might change for next year.
"It's something that I want to listen to what the police chief has to say, listen to what my colleagues on council have to say and make a decision that's right for Richmond," he added.
We made multiple requests to the police department for an interview about the unit with Chief Ray Tarasovic. We are still waiting to hear back from a spokesperson.