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Richmond City Council Committee Approves Resolutions Aimed At Police Budget

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A Richmond City Council committee approved a pair of police reform legislation proposals this afternoon that address calls from protesters to “defund the police.” 

The Finance and Economic Development Committee heard resolutions aimed at getting more information about how the Richmond Police Department spends its money, and how it could be diverted elsewhere. One of the resolutions,  Res. No. 2020-R047, would require RPD to send the council a report on how it funds “mental health, substance abuse and social service functions.” It also asks RPD to make recommendations for reallocating that money to other social service departments within the city or community groups. 

Ninth District Councilman Michael Jones is co-sponsoring the resolution alongside Councilwoman Stephanie Lynch. Jones said both resolutions aim to increase transparency and accountability in the police department.

“My hope and desire is that, as a council, that we would definitely exercise our oversight responsibility,” Jones said. “That’s what our committees are put together for and that’s our role.”

Not everyone on the three-person committee agreed. Councilwoman Kristen Larson, who represents the 4th District, voted against the resolution, saying she wants to see more specifics about how shifting money out of the police budget will work.

“I am not terribly comfortable with moving money without knowing where it’s going, does that agency, department, whatever it is, have the capacity to handle it,” she said.

That resolution ultimately passed on a 2-3 vote, with Councilwoman Ellen Robertson voting with Jones to send it to the full body with a recommendation to approve it.

The second resolution the committee discussed,  Res. No. 2020-R046, deals with special funding RPD and the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office receives from civil asset forfeiture, which is when law enforcement officers seize property they suspect of being involved in criminal activity. The resolution requests quarterly reports on what assets were seized and how city agencies plan to use the money 

In FY2021, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office is expected to receive roughly $77,000 from state and federal asset forfeiture. Richmond Police expect to receive $800,000 from the same special funds. 

That resolution was approved unanimously by the Finance Committee with a recommendation that the full body approves it. 

Police Chief Gerald Smith was present at the meeting and  reiterated that his department wants more funding, not less. 

“It is not that we are averse to working closer with mental health professions, with drug counselors, with [the] Department of Social Services,” Smith said. “I think the question is ‘How do we go about doing that?’ I think there are ways to do that, but defunding the police is probably one of the worst ideas to really do that.”

Both resolutions, as well as other police reform legislation on a civilian review board and the ‘Marcus Alert System,’ are expected to be voted on by Richmond City Council on July 27.

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