A clean slate: Community hopes interim police chief will bring transparency, healing

Published: Oct. 26, 2022 at 6:29 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The city of Richmond is now preparing for a new era of policing under Interim Chief Rick Edwards.

Everyone, from leaders to civilians, is eager for a fresh start after a tumultuous cycle of the pandemic, civil unrest, and gun violence plaguing the city.

While Interim Chief Edwards begins his new role, the search for a permanent chief is underway. However, city councilors and residents feel good about Edwards’ vision and hope he will bring about more transparency.

Many say he has strong roots in the Richmond community and good relations with fellow officers.

“I know he’s a great person, so we need to rally around all the leadership in the city, the residents, the police department,” Cruz Sherman, an advocate against gun violence, said. “We got a lot of work to do.”

Sherman is eager for healing and action from Richmond’s new Interim Chief.

“We’ve got to get ready, come up with a strategy for tomorrow that is going to be a long-lasting strategy where we can start to address some of the issues, which are a multiplicity of things,” he said.

Sherman says morale within the police department has been at an all-time low.

“They just want the support of a community and the agency that they are been sworn to serve, to rally around them and again, let’s get the job done. We’ve done enough talking, marching. We’ve done enough of pointing fingers. Let’s get the job done.”

In December of 2021, the Richmond Coalition of Police (RCOP) asked Former Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith to resign as their anonymous survey shows that most of their members have lost confidence in Smith’s ability to lead the department.

Board members went over their four data points of concern from the 261 responses they received below:

  • 96 percent say they have lost confidence in Chief Gerald Smith’s ability to lead.
  • 99 percent say morale has not improved under Chief Gerald Smith.
  • 89 percent say they don’t feel valued as an officer.
  • 82 percent are considering leaving the department before retirement.

“Let’s ask the police officers. Maybe they need to have some input on what type of chief they would like to be led by,” 3rd District City Councilwoman Ann-Frances Lambert said. “I think with the next choice in the search. We need to make sure the city council’s involvement is included.”

Lambert says she feels good about Interim Chief Edwards’ vision, given his 23 years of service with RPD.

“What’s promising is that he knows Richmond. He understands the real public safety issues we have in our high concentrated areas of poverty here in the city of Richmond. He understands the dynamics of the race issues we have here in the city of Richmond, and he can be a voice to help kind of bridge that gap,” Lambert said.

Mayor Stoney says the search for a permanent chief will span nationwide. Many residents tell me they know the city’s issues won’t be an easy fix for whoever takes over.