Richmond’s new police chief talks about past challenges and new ones

Richmond’s new police chief talks about past challenges and new ones

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Addressing questions for more than an hour, Richmond's newest top cop says the department's guiding principles must be defined.

"Whenever policing has changed, there's always been an existing philosophy," said Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith. "I'm not to sure we have an existing philosophy right now. The last philosophy we operated on was community policing and it worked great."

Smith says that community policing never recovered after the recession more than a decade ago. Crime statistics now drive where police patrol these days.

The 51-year-old, from Charlotte, North Carolina, says an independent review is underway of the department’s handling of more than 40 days of protest and unrest including the use of force. Smith says police will safely help protesters make their voices heard, but will also continue to engage with potential bad actors in the crowds at night.

Meanwhile, Richmond City Council is debating a number of police reforms including a civilian review board with subpoena power. Chief Smith supports the idea.

"We also know that this profession is changing and that we would like to be a part of that. What city council and everyone is pushing forward is something we're also wanting to do to. We want to sit down, talk, discuss what does policing look like," said Smith.

But he disagrees with calls to "defund the police," saying it should be viewed as "fund the change."

“Can the department be effective with less funding? No. It cannot. But with me, and I am consistent and I am firm in what I believe. When we start talking about defunding the police, that’s the wrong question. That’s the wrong issue,” said Smith.

The chief says you don't take money away from other struggling organizations, so why would that move help affect change within a department where the morale is already in the can.

"This is a great police department and what we're going to do is seek improvement," said Smith.

The chief will also have a pair of advisory boards going forward, one internal and one external.

Expect the fortifications in front of police headquarters to come down as soon as they are able to replace a broken glass door.

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