Richmond City Councilman requests to defund police

Updated: Jun. 9, 2020 at 6:33 AM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Richmond City Councilman Michael Jones said today he wants to defund the city’s police department.

“What is happening right now in this city and around this country is not working,” the 9th District representative said.

Jones is calling for cuts to the police budget, with the money going elsewhere, such as mental health training or investment in neighborhoods “that have been systematically divested from for years.”

According to city documents, the proposed budget for the fiscal year 2021 allocates about $100 million to the police department, but some say that still isn’t enough.

“You don’t rob Peter to pay Paul. You find additional funding. There are grant sources, there’s federal funding,” Cheryl Nici-O’Connell, President of police group Richmond United for Law Enforcement said.

Nici-O’Connell says taking away money would be a disservice to the community, but she agrees that bigger discussions need to be had in order to figure out the specific needs of the community.

“Find those resources, and give money back to the programs that are going to help address what is needed,” she said.

Still, Jones says the bigger goal here is to help minorities that have dealt with questionable law enforcement.

“The policing of black men and black women in this country has to change, and I’m saying I’m willing to stand up for that change and find a pathway through,” he added.

In a statement, Councilman Jones says:

Over the last two weeks, it has become clearer than ever that trends in public safety funding need to be re-examined. A government’s budget will show its priorities. We should not be surprised or shocked at the para-military state of our police force based on the amount of funding allocated to them each year. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is senseless. We need to have an honest and transparent discussion about the amount of funding allocated to our police department. Public trust in the Richmond Police Department and in the City of Richmond’s government was severely damaged last week. I am calling for a deep dive into the Richmond Police Department’s budget with the intention of defunding the police. Funding must be reallocated to communities that have been disproportionately impacted by over-policing and a continued lack of resources. We must reinvest in and support Black people, Black organizations, Black creatives, and Black businesses in our city. This discussion cannot wait any longer. Lives - Black lives - depend on it.

NBC12 did reach out to Jones’ fellow council members in regards to Jones’ stance. As of this publishing, only Councilwoman Kim Gray of the 2nd District had responded, saying "We need serious reforms, not lip service. That term means different things to different people, but I am not in favor of eliminating the police.”

House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert (R-15) released a statement requesting that Governor Northam condemn calls to “Defund the Police”:

"As national, state, and local Democrats across the country have begun to acquiesce to calls to ‘defund the police,’ it is crucial that Governor Northam and Virginia Democrats condemn this destructive position. The overwhelming majority of law enforcement officers are men and women of good character who put their lives on the line daily to protect their fellow citizens, regardless of their race or station in life. “The need for reform and accountability is incompatible with calls to defund or dismantle our police departments. Failing to stand up for law enforcement now would send the wrong message to Virginians and those who would do business here -- that public safety in Virginia is no longer a serious priority.”

In his media briefing Tuesday, Governor Northam said he was already speaking with Police Chiefs in the Commonwealth, adding that he also intends to speak with activists, calling this “an opportunity for serious reform.”

NBC12 did also try to contact RPD Chief William Smith, but we have not yet received a statement from him directly.

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