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Richmond Police Spent Nearly $2 Million Responding To Protests

protesters in front of police
Protesters have demonstrated against police brutality across the city, including in front of precinct offices. (Photo: Coleman Jennings/VPM News)

*Roberto Roldan and Ben Paviour reported this story

The Richmond Police Department spent nearly $2 million over a period of 36 days responding to citywide protests, according to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by VPM.

Richmond Police officers have racked up $1.6 million in overtime pay as of July 3 -- about half of the $4.1 million allocated for overtime in the 2020 budget. The department spent another $208,462 on equipment and supplies during the protests.

Since May 29, demonstrations against racism and police brutality have occurred nearly every night.

During some of the protests, RPD and officers from other agencies used tear gas, pepper spray and other “less than lethal” weapons. Police have also put in hours providing public safety duties during the protests, including blocking traffic on roads.

Jim Nolan, a spokesman for Mayor Levar Stoney, defended the city's emergency spending in the context of protests, the pandemic, and an economic downturn.

“One factor that does not change, however, is our responsibility to ensure the public health and public safety of our residents, businesses and visitors at all times,” Nolan said. “The city spends, and will continue to spend, the resources necessary to do so.”

Richmond Police was not the only agency responding to the protests. Richmond relied on mutual aid agreements to bring in officers from Henrico, Chesterfield and Virginia State Police.

In addition to the $2 million spent by RPD, Henrico Police spent more than $69,000 sending officers to assist in the protest response. Henrico police were present in Richmond for five protests between May 29 and June 14, sending between 26 and 61 officers. Henrico has not sent any officers since June 14, according to Lieutenant Matthew C. Pecka.

Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas recently told the Henrico Citizen they do not plan to assist with any more protests, citing concerns about officer safety.

“We have a lot of needs within the county, but I also feel like there’s just not a uniform approach that’s being taken right now to manage the situation in Richmond, so I am going to err on the side of officer safety and not do anything other than that,” Vithoulkas said.

A separate Metro Aviation Unit, which is jointly funded by police departments in Richmond, Henrico and Chesterfield, provided aerial surveillance of protests. Henrico County incurred nearly $1,000 in fuel costs. Salaries for the four pilots cost the county another $2,900.

Costs for the unit are split between the three departments, though pilot costs may vary slightly based on the salaries of the officers who staff the plane. VPM has filed FOIA requests with RPD and Chesterfield County to determine their share of costs for the aviation unit. In addition, VPM filed follow-up FOIA requests with RPD to learn which days overtime was used and what equipment has been purchased.

VCU Police spent roughly $8,000 in shared assistance to RPD and the VCU Medical Center through June 25.

The tally is still an undercount of regional spending on the protests.

Virginia State Police have provided key support to RPD. But a FOIA officer with the agency said financial records from the protests had not yet been separated out because they are ongoing.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s May 31 emergency order on “civil unrest,” which he renewed on June 29, authorized the Virginia Department of Emergency management to dole out up to $350,000 for “for state and local government mission assignments and state response and recovery operations.” That includes $250,000 for the Department of Military Affairs.

A FOIA officer for the VDEM said they had yet to receive any invoices from regional law enforcement agencies; agencies typically submit expenses for reimbursement 90 days after the end of an event.

Chesterfield County Police and Capitol Police said they had no records of costs incurred responding to the demonstrations.

“It’s about squashing the protests and responding with such an amount of physical presence that people are intimidated, that people won’t come out.” - Eli Coston

Eli Coston, a policing transparency activist and an assistant professor at VCU focused on policing, race and sexuality, said the amount of money spent by Richmond Police illuminates the agency’s priorities.

“The fact that so much has gone to increasing the number of police on the ground every single day, the fact that so much has gone toward equipment that we know are used violently toward protests -- this really says something about Richmond Police’s response,” Coston said. “It’s about squashing the protests and responding with such an amount of physical presence that people are intimidated, that people won’t come out.”

Coston is a member of the Richmond Transparency and Accountability Project, an activist group that for years has been pushing the city to create a civilian review board to investigate police misconduct.

If RPD exceeds its budget because of the cost of responding to the protests, it will need to be reconciled by the city’s Finance Department and Office of Budget and Strategic Planning. Any gaps could be filled with excess money from other police programs or other city departments. As a last resort, money from the city’s reserves, known as the “rainy day fund,” could also be used.

City Council will ultimately need to review and sign off on any transfers made to cover budget overruns in the police department.

Police departments in other cities have also reported high costs for responding to protests, including  nearly $1 million in Raleigh and more than  $18 million in Philadelphia.

Editor's note: This story was updated with VCU Police costs provided after publication. 

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
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