RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Richmond’s newest police chief says get ready to see an increased police presence at the same spot protesters continue to gather night after night.
Chief Gerald Smith says he was given orders to step up police visibility at the Lee Monument and that’s just what he plans to do. This as he admits, morale within the department could use a boost as officers continue to clash with protesters.
Smith says in recent days, his officers haven’t wanted to do anything that would contribute to more civil unrest but many people who live in the area say officers aren’t doing enough. Now, the new chief says it’s time to do something about it.
“When will gun laws be enforced at the minimum? I know the tents, the defecating on the sidewalk, the sex on the cars, that’s secondary but people walking around with armed assault rifles is utmost concern,” Councilmember Kim Gray said.
Serious issues were brought to Smith’s attention Monday as city leaders met virtually.
“What is the plan for restoring peace?” Gray asked the chief. She’s referring to the Lee Monument at night. “Vandalism to homes and cars and persons have been accosted…slashed tires, cars being spray painted, homes being spray painted, fires being set, windows smashed…walking around and stopping people, questioning them and re-directing cars and pedestrians to determine if they were going to let them pass through or not,” Gray mentioned.
She told Smith it’s become personal. “I can’t say enough how terrifying it is to have guns waved at me and my children in my home, and I empathize and sympathize with the people who are experiencing it on Monument Avenue as well.”
Gray says rumor has it officers have been given orders to stand down. Monday, the new chief responded.
“Their view of having their hands tied or instructions coming from a higher source, that is not true. They are still the police and they still hold a duty to serve this community, and I believe they will uphold that duty as we go forth,” Smith said.
He says get ready to see a stepped-up police presence at the Lee Monument, despite morale among officers being less than ideal.
“They are feeling the pressure of being the villain per se on social media, especially on social media,” Smith added.
“The police, y’all have earned all of this. You really have. You’ve earned it over decades of abuse. That’s not opinion. Those are simply facts,” Councilmember Mike Jones chimed in.
Smith says he’s asking his staff for suggestions on what the department can do to better support officers and their families right now. He’s also in the process of pooling resources from multiple city departments to work with his officers at the Lee Monument. More details on that plan are expected soon.
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