Nearly a year after the “violence interrupters” were announced, city still seeing homicide rates increase

Do Not Cross! by David von Diemar is licensed under Unsplash
RICHMOND, VA - Back in February, Mayor Levar Stoney and former Police Chief Gerald Smith announced that the city of Richmond would implement "violence interrupters" in a new effort to combat gun violence.

However, it is nearly 10 months later and several people are left wondering, where are the violence interrupters? In May of 2021, Mayor Stoney declared gun violence a public crisis and since then the number of homicides have only increased at an even faster rate. 2021 ended with the most homicides in the city in more than 15 years.

According to a police spokesperson, so far in 2022, 52 people have died in firearm-related homicides in the city of Richmond. The violence interrupters were intended to serve as mediators for people at risk of committing violence. At a city council meeting, Richmond council member, Reva Trammell, said: "We need an update. We need the mayor or the administration to come and give us a report and let us know."

She said she has unanswered questions. Questions that she suspects many other Richmond residents have. When talking specifically about the violence interrupters, she said: "How many did you hire? How many are still there? What is their role? What are their hours?"

Back in February, Smith claimed that the recruited violence interrupters would provide outreach and conflicting mediation services in assigned areas and neighborhoods.

At the time he announced: "These individuals will be from the streets. There's not other way to put it. These people will come with some baggage. They will come with history. They will come with experience and connections to the community that we don't have." 

In April, City Hall put out an official notice to hire three violence interrupters to help curb the violence. Those applications had a deadline of April 20th. However, in June, reporters questioned Richmond Police on why there had been no updates. They were told that the hiring process had been delayed by ongoing background checks.

Acting Chief of Police Rick Edwards said in a statement: "We need more police officers to do the kind of policing that we use to do, that we want to do. That's community policing. Having our officers on foot, on. bicycle, in the community and doing those things. Not just driving by."

As the violence continues and the violence interrupters are no where to be found, some parties have taken action into their own hands.

The Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) announced that it was in the early stages of assembling a security police force for its six major public housing communities. RRHA's newly appointed CEO, Steven Nesmith, said that the proposed security force would be a "resident-led community policing effort," with an emphasis on communication between members of the force and residents within those six communities.

He said: "The residents have said this is what they want. The residents have come to me and said, 'Mr. Nesmith, if you do anything, please bring back some security and policing in our communities so we won't be scared to walk, not just at night, but during the day.'"

Members of this proposed force will be armed and have the authority to make arrests. However, the will have to do so in coordination with the Richmond Police Department (RPD). Nesmith and acting chief Edwards are supposed to meet to discuss insights and training.

Nesmith added: "We will [also] be sitting down with our legal counsel to make sure that this process that we are putting in place meets the laws of Richmond and the Commonwealth."

Prior to 2014, RRHA had its own police force, but the Department of Housing and Urban Development eventually pulled funding for housing authorities all across the country. Nesmith said that he has found "alternative financing" to fund RRHA's proposed security force.

The details of this funding have not yet been released, but he said he expects it will be made public in February 2023. Along with the proposed security force, Nesmith said that the housing authority will also be offering job training and apprenticeship programs to residents of the community. He added: "I'm excited about it. I'm excited about it because we are going to have a company that comes in and gives job training for public housing residents. Our goal is to save those young kids."
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