Remember those episodes of the Andy Griffith Show when Sheriff Taylor would go on vacation, and Deputy Fife would call up Otis as his police backup? That, in a nutshell (emphasis on the “nut”) is what Richmond’s police chief has proposed: The Parker Police Patrol Pals.
According to media accounts of the Patrol Pals program, citizen volunteers would undergo a criminal background check, then take eight weeks of police basic training. (Remember “Police Academy III?”) These retail clerks, retirees and Amway reps will then roam the streets of Richmond for 10 or more hours each month with full police powers … and packing police-issued heat to back them up.
It should be noted that many police agencies in the Richmond area and around the country use auxiliary, reserve and volunteer officers with great effectiveness. In fact, Richmond has volunteer officer aides right now. But they aren’t armed, and their job is not law enforcement but officer support. And most other jurisdictions use volunteers for traffic control and prisoner transportation, not crime response or active patrolling as Parker has proposed.
Supporters of Parker’s plan — all three of them — point out that Virginia Beach has a similar program, and that’s true. They have volunteer, part-time officers who participate in patrols. They have EIGHT of them.
Criminals don’t stand a chance.
All of which points to the most offensive part of the Patrol Pals proposal: its irrelevance. Richmond’s crime problem isn’t streets jammed with tourists or a dearth of officers to escort funeral processions. Our problem is that you’re more likely to get murdered here than in almost any other city of its size, and that the murderer has a better chance of getting hit by a bus than getting pinched by the cops.
Alas, I exaggerate. Richmond murderers have about a 30 percent chance of being arrested, prosecuted and incarcerated for their crimes. By any measure, this is far too low. But there is no evidence this percentage will rise with the addition of 50 partially trained, part-time patrolmen.
In fact, of all the things Chief Parker lacks, such as an effective policing plan for Richmond, the one thing he’s got plenty of is policemen and women. The idea that the RPD is short-handed isn’t just a myth; it’s a joke.
While the Richmond Police Department has a budget to pay for about 715 officers, according to City Councilman Bill Pantele, they only have about 625 on the payroll. They are far from understaffed.
Nationally, the average number of police officers per 1,000 residents is 2.4. In larger cities like New York, that number tends to rise, but in cities the size of Richmond — like Louisville (2.9), Cincinnati (2.7) and Nashville (2.3) — the national average is about right.
But in Richmond, our 625 officers protecting fewer than 200,000 citizens works out to 3.13 per 1,000. When we reach full staffing, we’ll have a whopping 3.56 police officers for every 1,000 citizens.
Other police chiefs would be green with envy to have such a large police force and the massive taxpayer budget to fund it. Not Chief Parker. He wants more men and more money to go along with more murders and more unsolved crimes.
All of which begs the question “Why?” Why announce this lame-brained scheme to solve a problem that doesn’t exist? When Chief Parker claims that his part-time Patrol Pals, with their eight weeks at the academy “receive the same rigorous training” full-time officers get, he’s got to know this is a slap in the face to his real cops, who undergo nearly constant training for their difficult jobs. How does this help?
The advantage of the Patrol Pals for Chief Parker is that it gives him something to talk about when he’s asked about Richmond’s crime problem. Even more important, it lets him avoid the real question: Why does he refuse to use the Giuliani-style, confrontational police tactics that have proven so effective in other high-crime urban settings?
The answer, by the way, has as much to do with the known criminals on Richmond City Council as it does with Chief Parker. A council that refuses to remove tax cheats and bribe takers from its own ranks isn’t exactly making crime-fighting its priority. Plus, many of the citizens who would find themselves on the receiving end of confrontational police tactics happen to be black. That creates an immediate political problem for city politicians who rule through the effective use of race baiting.
Which brings us to the final, and most tragic, statistic of all. Most of the 77 murder victims are black: young, black men gunned down on Richmond streets while a race-obsessed City Council fights harder against mayors (the elected kind) than murders.
But there’s always an up side. When Gomer and Goober get their uniforms, there’s almost certainly going to be a spike in business at the Broad Street Krispy Kreme. S
Michael Graham is host of “The Michael Graham Experience,” from 3-7 p.m. on WRVA-AM 1140 in Richmond.
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.
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