Richmond’s Police Chief says billboards claiming city is unsafe are false

Chief Gerald Smith says they are understaffed, but it’s not undermining public safety
Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 3:48 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Richmond’s Police Chief is on the defense after a pair of billboards claim the safety of the city is in jeopardy due to poor police pay and staffing issues.

“They also put up that billboard up that brings the safety of the city into question. Public safety. Police, fire, medic, you know? I think that’s a problem,” said Chief Gerald Smith, Richmond Police Dept.

The Richmond Coalition of Police “RCOP” is behind the campaign. RCOP says the current salary for a city recruit is about $43,000. The organization points out neighboring departments, like Henrico, start higher by about $9,000.

The billboards were put up in Richmond.
The billboards were put up in Richmond.(Richmond Coalition of Police)

“I think they just insulted my officers,” said Smith.

Monday, the chief presented crime data to rebuke RCOP’s claims. The chief says while crime could be better, it’s not what RCOP is making it out to be.

“There are others who are saying and putting up other things and saying and putting up signs that give the impression that Richmond is not safe to come live, work, play or do business. This is not what this is saying, OK,” said Smith.

Smith says the department is currently understaffed. RCOP says the department has more than 60 vacancies.

Richmond City Council approved a study that’s about to get underway to review police salaries.

“This is about politics and positioning. It’s not about public safety,” said Mike Jones, Richmond City Council.

Councilor Jones was not in favor of that study and says they’re still trying to figure out the future of policing in the city. But starting in October, the city will provide two-step increases for officers including one that got postponed due to the pandemic.

“If they feel there are greener pastures in Henrico or Chesterfield, so be it. We are going to do things Richmond’s way,” said Jones.

The billboards were put up in Richmond.
The billboards were put up in Richmond.(Richmond Coalition of Police)

RCOP issued the following statement to NBC12:

“RCOP represents almost 350 Richmond Police Officers. That is the majority of officers in the city of Richmond. The city is in a crisis due to poor staffing and pay. Officers are leaving the city to go to surrounding jurisdictions.

“Officers that are leaving and where they are going is the great concern for RCOP members. More officers leaving is a problem. It is a crisis when you have so many experienced officers leaving the department at such an alarming rate. There is a mass exodus of experienced officers quitting.

“There is a decorated supervisor who has over 15 years of service going to a neighboring Police Department and will be paid a higher rate as a regular patrol officer than a supervisor in the city of Richmond. It takes a Richmond Police Officer nine years to make what a first year Henrico Police Officer makes. That is if the city doesn’t freeze the pay step plan and career development, which they have continued to do over the years. The two steps that are in this year’s fiscal budget that won’t be available until October do not change the competitiveness of the current pay plan.

“The citizens deserve to know. The citizens aren’t aware of the starting salaries of public safety departments in the Metro Richmond area. The citizens need to know what the current state of affairs are and it’s obvious with the pay differential.

“The urgent need to get the pay and retention issues addressed with experienced officers was not presented at the last minute. RCOP has been meeting for months explaining to the city that their own pay plan is not competitive. RCOP presented a solution with a brand new pay plan but the city chose not to implement it until a pay study is conducted.

“In the past, the city has taken over a year to complete a pay study. RCOP has expressed its concerns to the city that time is of the essence. The city does not move fast when it comes to addressing pay for public safety and that needs to change.

“The Billboards are not an attack on the Chief of Police. We want to be clear that we are not blaming the Police Chief for a situation that he inherited. We are saying that the issues raised with officers leaving and the experience pouring out of the city has impacted the rank and file of the Police Department. The numbers on the Billboard are accurate.”

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