But instead of the chief being embroiled in controversy, many Richmonders think the bad guy in this story is … me.
Why? In part because the WRVA listenership — as most talk stations — is made up of people like my dad who believe “the police are always right.” Even when the police are wrong, we conservatives are sympathetic to just how lousy a cop’s job can be, handling our social trash and risking their lives while doing it.
And yet the fact remains that the Richmond Police Department is particularly incompetent, especially when compared to departments in other cities of similar size and makeup. When Chief Parker told my listeners that he and his department were doing an “excellent job,” I had to stop and ask what definition of excellent he was using? The department is excellent at failing to close homicide cases. It’s outstanding at having no suspects in high-profile public shootings. And Parker absolutely rocks at blaming the citizens for the bullets they are forced to dodge.
Whenever I raise these points, however, I receive a barrage of angry e-mails insisting “Graham, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
This is a disturbing allegation for a guy who talks for a living, so I’m taking these criticisms very seriously. My constant refrain for the officers, bureaucrats and citizens who disagree with me is: “Tell me what I don’t know!” What is it about police work in Richmond that is different from such work in any other Southern city of this size?
Sadly, the only answer I’ve received — and it’s at least consistent because I’ve received it from everyone — is that Richmond has what Ross Perot would call a “you people” problem: Too many blacks. “You don’t know them blacks on the South Side,” I’m told again and again ... and not just by white Richmonders, either.
A convenient excuse, to be sure, but in addition to being overtly racist, it just doesn’t make any sense. What, there aren’t any black people in Savannah, Ga.? Or Charlotte, N.C.? Or Philadelphia, New York or Newark, N.J.? All of those cities have one thing in common: They all are safer than Richmond.
Maybe I am the bonehead here; maybe I am woefully underinformed. So here’s the deal I’d like to make: I’ll list below what I do know — not opinions, not anecdotes, but facts. All of these facts point to one thing: Richmond has one of the most ineffective police departments in America. At least that’s how it looks to me.
But I could be wrong. So you read the facts, you think about them, and you e-mail me (email@example.com) and offer some other explanation. I don’t have all the answers, but these facts seem to raise some rather obvious questions:
• Between 2001 and 2002, the national murder rate went up less than 1 percent. In cities the size of Richmond, it went up less than 3 percent. In Richmond, the murder rate jumped 20 percent. If current trends hold, it will be even higher this year.
• In Virginia, juvenile crime dropped 3 percent last year. In the Richmond area, it went up 16 percent.
• The most recent “Safest/Most Dangerous Cities in America” listing ranked Richmond a dismal 330th — behind New York and Miami. Among midsized cities, we’re less safe than Newark, N. J., Buffalo, N.Y., Oakland, Calif., and Cincinnati.
• Richmond ranks eighth on the list of the “10 Most Dangerous Midsized Cities.”
• Among Southern cities with significant black populations, we also rank among the worst, behind Atlanta, Charlotte, Savannah, and Nashville, Tenn.
• No matter what measurement you use, Richmond has one of the worst crime problems in America. As Chief Parker noted on WRVA, there isn’t a single category of performance in which the Richmond Police Department ranks in the top 10 for cities its size.
• Last year, there were more murders in Richmond (population 200,000) than in Manhattan (population 1.5 million).
• In 2002, the Richmond Police Department closed just 19 of the year’s 84 killings: a 22 percent rate of solving slayings in the city.
• As of July 27, the Richmond Police Department had solved just 18 of the year’s 50 (at that time) murders.
• At least seven people have been killed within half a mile of Richmond’s new $170 million convention center — two of them within a few blocks.
• After the National Night Out shooting on Church Hill, Chief Parker appeared on WRVA and took issue with my claim that such public shootings at high profile events resulting in no arrests was “typical Richmond.” That same weekend, a shootout took place in Carytown less than a block from the Watermelon Festival. As of this writing, the armed criminal has not been identified or apprehended. Two weeks later, three women and a child were gunned down in a single shooting incident. As of this writing, no suspects have been identified.
• Some Richmond city residents report making as many as 20 calls to report criminal activity without ever receiving a police response at the scene of the crime.
• One woman, whose house on North Avenue has been shot 13 times in a year, claimed that she called 911 so often “they knew my voice.” The shootings continue.
• On the issue of drug dealing in Richmond, Chief Parker told reporters, “The drug problem is not going to be solved by me locking people up.”
One final observation: If my city water weren’t working, I’d call the Water Department. If the city kept screwing up my trash pickup, I’d be screaming about the Sanitation Department. Why is it “anti-cop” or unfair to ask the Police Department about the crime problem? Who else should I ask?
Wait, I forgot — I should ask you, the citizens of Richmond. After all, the crime is your fault. S
Michael Graham is host of “The Michael Graham Experience,” a talk show that airs from 3-7 p.m. on WRVA-1140 AM in Richmond. His most recent book is “Redneck Nation: How the South Won the War.”
Opinions expressed on the Back Page are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Style Weekly.
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