RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Richmond Police officers are leaving the city, and it's leaving some of the people who live there fearing for their safety.
An NBC12 viewer who's lived in Richmond for more than seventy years and started his own neighborhood crime watch group on the south side. asked us to get some answers.
There are places on Richmond's south side where most people wouldn't want to walk alone at night, or even in broad daylight, for that matter. They're places where criminals lurk and police officers struggle to keep the peace.
John Ellis lives in one of those areas. His Oak Grove neighborhood is not far from Hillside Court.
“I had an officer tell me one day when I called in a fight right down a block, and he told me there weren't but two officers for the whole sector,” he recalled.
Ellis runs his neighborhood crime watch and pays attention to who's on the streets.
“It's not enough people to cover the people that's doing wrong things,” he says. “I'm uncomfortable, very uncomfortable.”
Richmond Police Department's staffing records for sworn officers show the numbers back up Ellis' concerns. Five years ago, at a time when RPD had the most officers on the street, there were 768 of them. Last year, that number went down to 714. So far this year, the total decreased again to 695. Over five years, the department lost more than 70 officers. That's an average of 14 officers every year.
The union that represents local cops isn't surprised to see how many of them are leaving.
“It's usually one of the last options that you have,” said Officer Brad Nixon, who sits on the board of the Richmond Coalition of Police.
Nixon says those officers are going to other nearby jurisdictions, and that's not just a problem for the department, but the city as a whole.
“The citizens have gotten to know those officers because they see them regularly working in the same areas,” he said. “They have that connection and then for them to leave, for the city to lose them, for the citizens to lose them, for us to lose them, it's not a situation that we like to see happen.”
R-COP says one of the reasons officers are leaving has to do with pay and how much they make compared to officers working nearby.
An officer starting out in Chesterfield makes $40,000. At the Hanover Sheriff's Office, recruits make $41,321. Over in Henrico, police start at $43,032. All of those beat the Richmond Police officer starting salary of $36,500.
Richmond Police Chief Ray Tarasovic declined to give his his take on the story. Department spokesman Gene Lepley said, "The chief has declined your request. He says the department is more fully staffed than when he took over – and more officers are coming on-board – we just graduated a class of new recruits and we have another class of 29 recruits who will graduate in February."
Ellis said he's skeptical of the chief's response in light of what we found and what he sees on the streets of his neighborhood. He fears for the future if officers continue to leave. “There won't be any safety," he said.