Interim Police Chief Allwyn Brown, or just A.B. as many know him, has spent a lifetime in the Richmond Police Department. From the time he was hired at the age of 20, back in the mid 1980’s, to today, Brown has been deeply involved in the department’s transformation into a national model for community policing.
As he settles into his new role as interim police chief after the departure of former police chief Chris Magnus, Brown talked with Radio Free Richmond about how he plans to approach use-of-force incidents in the police department, how he thinks the community can curb the recent rise in violent crime, and more. To read Part 1, click here.
Radio Free Richmond (RFR): Let’s talk about crime in the city. Richmond had its lowest homicide rate in decades in 2014, but 2015 saw a significant spike in homicides. What is your plan to counter this trend?
Allwyn Brown (AB): That's a good question. Historically, the overwhelming majority of murders that do occur in Richmond happen with a firearm. Typically it's in a public place, and the victims are targeted for any number of dispute related reasons, or whether it's over continuing illegal activity, or neighborhood click, or gang type activity.
The good news is that this activity typically involves a very small number of people who are actually pulling triggers, and so the challenge is to keep pace with intelligence and focus on the people who are really active in doing this stuff.
That's worked for us in the past, but unfortunately when you take somebody who's a serial shooter out of this crime equation, the sad news is that there's usually someone waiting in the wings to step up and get street cred and make a name for themselves.
To counter this, we always have our special investigations folks down on what's happening and how the landscape is changing so we can focus on the right people who are active — those who are repeatedly doing things — so we can target them for enforcement and long term investigation. That is something that is continuing.
RFR: Do you have a specific plan that’s different from what you’ve done in the past?
AB: Some things that we've done in the past, they work, but we're dealing with human behavior. If you're a repeat offender and you're doing something that's outside the law, the very first thing that you want to pay attention to is how officers are responding to it so you can adjust what you're doing.
This means that we have to constantly be in tune and adjust as well. We understand what works and we have to make some adjustments so we can deal with what the problems look like today. What the problem looks like today is similar to what it looked like a year ago. Some names and faces have changed, and we have to adjust to that. That's what we're in the heart of right now.
RFR: As you know, the city is in a tight place financially right now, and there have been questions raised about how police services may be impacted by a tightening budget. How would decreased financial resources impact efforts to curb the rise in violent crime?
AB: In a perfect world we would have a lot more staff than what we have now. But we will figure out how to make the most of what we have, and it comes down to us setting our priorities correctly so we're really focused on appointing the most resources to what the highest priorities are. Our priorities shift, and we've learned to be pretty nimble around here. As new problems emerge, we shift resources to address this.
My hope is that what we have in the budget for this coming fiscal coming fiscal year will be the same as it is now. We'll operate within the confines of what we're given in the hope that one day when things are better that these resources can increase.
But for now, the good news is that we have a lot of smart and motivated and capable people who really identify with the higher calling nature of police work. Right now it's working for us.
RFR: What can people in the community do to help curb the recent rise in crime?
AB: If you see something, say something. Report suspicious activity to the police. No matter what neighborhood you live in in Richmond, there's either going to be a neighborhood council and/or a neighborhood watch group. I always encourage people to connect with those and get to know who their neighbors are.
The front line of making communities safer is neighbors looking out for each other. That's where it all starts. Then get to know who your beat officer is, attend meetings, and just become more knowledgeable so you can access not only police services, but any number of public services available that can help deal with issues that might arise in neighborhoods.
RFR: There have been some issues across the country and in Richmond as well around issues of officer involved violence and shootings of unarmed members of the public. The Pedie Perez case comes to mind. I'm wondering, if you were selected to be Richmond Police Chief, how would you work to build trust in the community and air concerns about this pressing topic in today's society?
AB: We are very aware of issues of trust in legitimacy as it relates to police across the country. We started last year with some United State Department of Justice funding, and we trained our officers in unconscious bias so our folks can have a heightened awareness of what their biases might be. This is important for them to be able to then adjust themselves when dealing with the public. Everyone has biases, it's just a matter of understanding what they are so they don't impact what they're trying to accomplish. We've done that.
We are also working to increase transparency by transitioning our Professional Standards office, or our internal affairs function, to be renamed the Office of Professional Accountability, and we are actually in the process of recruiting a non-police, civilian manager to run that office and run a function that we haven't had before, which is a mediation function. That office has already been moved and is housed at city hall, so it makes it easier and less confrontational for people who want to make a complaint against police officers or service. Those complaints will then be investigated.
When we do hire a manager, that manager will be more proactive about getting out in the community to explain their function and how to interact with them. Those are a couple of things we have in place to increase transparency which helps us build trust across every neighborhood in Richmond.
RFR: Is there anything else you want the public to know?
AB: The city's finances are obviously going to be a little tight for a while. We all get that. So we face a number of challenges, but I think to the extent that we can pull together and work as a team, we'll get through it. From the policing perspective, I'm looking to get a deeper reach into every neighborhood in Richmond, to mobilize all communities, and hopefully the entire population on this mission to make Richmond a safer place.