School-Cops Program Gets Slashed; Sierra Club Tackles Inner-City Richmond; City Council Orders Jamison to "Focus"; Homemade Fish 

Street Talk

School-Cops Program Gets Slashed

Understaffed and over budget, the Richmond Police Department is scaling back the number of cops in Richmond city schools.

In recent weeks the department has shrunk its Vanquish Unit by more than 70 percent — from 12 officers led by two sergeants to three officers led by one sergeant.

As a result, the school system will be forced to rely more heavily on its own security force when students return in the fall.

"Obviously it's going to have a tremendous impact when we don't have [the police officers] there," says Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Albert J. Williams. But that doesn't mean schools won't be safe, he adds.

Richmond Public Schools, which spends $2.2 million on safety and security, employs 53 of its own security specialists. Each of the city's nine high schools have two to three specialists; one or two specialists are posted in each of its 10 middle schools.

But the police officers who were in the schools offered more than security. They maintained ties to police officers in neighborhoods, served as a resource for teachers and taught classes to students about the criminal-justice system.

"They have the capacity to teach, they have the capacity to counsel," Williams says. "And they probably do that more than anything else. For many kids, they will lose a real friend, who in many cases is a real mentor."

For the police department, which reduced the Vanquish Unit July 13, the decision was difficult but necessary, says Maj. Frank Monahan, the department's commander of special services, which includes the unit.

"We just don't have the number of bodies," Monahan says. The department has been reshuffling officers from some of its ancillary units into what it refers to as core services — such as answering 911 calls.

The downsized Vanquish Unit will divvy up schools into three geographic areas and assign each of the three remaining officers to those areas, Monahan says. The unit will be re-evaluated next year and may eventually disappear.

Surrounding counties fund school resource officers in different ways. In Henrico County, which does not run its own security force, the school system and police department share costs. Chesterfield County Schools runs a matching grants program.

Williams says he has confidence in the Richmond schools' security officers. But he says he will miss the police officers.

"It's an extremely important job," Williams says, "and if there are additional funds out there, we'll be the first ones to go look for them." — Jason Roop

Sierra Club Tackles Inner-City Richmond

If the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club get its wish, a good pair of shoes and bus fare will be the only things many Richmonders will need to get to work.

The club's Restore the Core Program for Richmond, which will be officially launched next month, may help make that wish come true, says Pat DeZern, conservation coordinator for the group.

The Richmond program aims to help restore the urban environment of the city, improve its quality of life and reduce the amount of urban development, DeZern says. The club hopes it will become a model for other Virginia communities,

The Richmond version of Restore the Core stems from a campaign the chapter started in Northern Virginia to repopulate and rebuild parts of Washington, D.C. But the Richmond campaign will be broader, with emphases on air quality, transportation, and citizen input, DeZern says.

According to a study by the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service, Richmond outranked Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads in the amount of land developed between 1992 and 1997.

But, DeZern says, Richmond has the lowest population growth of the three areas — meaning Richmond-area development spreads fewer people over more space. That reduces green space and hurts air quality.

One way to improve air quality is to lessen automobile travel, DeZern says. That means minimizing daily commutes. Restore the Core proposes renovating unused buildings, houses and other buildings within the city and making sure residents' needs are within walking distance, she says. "It's the idea of the old-time community," DeZern says.

The Richmond-area Restore the Core Program will kick off in Richmond with an open meeting Aug. 9 at 6:30 p.m. at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, DeZern says. — Jacob Parcell

City Council Orders Jamison to "Focus"

City Council Orders

Jamison to "Focus"

After receiving his annual performance evaluation from City Council last week, Richmond City Manager Calvin Jamison seems to be under much of the same pressures he faced when he took the helm of City Hall 30 months ago.

The word from City Council: Focus on specifics.

Some Council members express waning patience with Jamison, pointing to a budget overrun in the police department, less-than-adequate city services and ailing public facilities such as City Hall and the courts building. In addition, Jamison will lose his most vocal supporter when Mayor Timothy M. Kaine steps down in September.

While there is impatience among the Council, Kaine acknowledges, he maintains that most Council members are satisfied with Jamison's performance.

Only two — Sa'ad El-Amin and Reva M. Trammell — are unabashedly critical, Kaine says: "I have a great deal of confidence that the other members of Council are not going to get sucked into this negative-energy whirlpool that two of my colleagues create."

A phone call to Jamison was returned, but not by press time.

Jamison, who took the job in January 1999, was appointed by Council after rocky public hearings about his fitness for the job. Some citizens expressed serious concerns about his lack of municipal experience.

Today, 2 1/2 years later, most City Council members are publicly positive and generally approving of Jamison's performance.

"I feel very comfortable that Calvin has certainly learned a lot since he has been on board at this point," says 9th District Councilwoman the Rev. Gwen C. Hedgepeth, "and we can expect greater things from him."

"He's got good people in place," says 1st District Councilman G. Manoli Loupassi. "I'm hopeful that he will continue to tap their knowledge and expertise and abilities to continue to move the city forward."

W. Randolph "Bill" Johnson, councilman for the 3rd District, says he's "somewhat supportive" of Jamison, and says he's confident that City Council will not be looking for a new city manager any time soon.

Even Jamison's detractors compliment his integrity, intentions and work ethic. So far, Jamison seems to have impressed his bosses the most with his project to improve customer service at City Hall and bolster morale among city employees.

Jamison's supporters cite such accomplishments as crime reduction, tax cuts, transportation solutions, increases in population and school construction. And they've also been pleased with the city's strides in economic development.

But over time Jamison's lack of experience has grown more evident, one council member insists: "This [hiring of Jamison] was a failed experiment."

As a result of his evaluation, according to City Hall sources, Jamison has been given several charges: Improve city facilities. Focus on the nuts-and-bolts services for John Q. Citizen. Rely on the experience around you.

Now he has even more to prove. — J.R.

Homemade Fish Turns Heads

Homemade Fish

Turns Heads

Made from wood scavenged from bookshelves, polka-dotted with finger nail polish, paint and stickers and sprouting weed-whacker whiskers on one side of its face, "Bait and Switch" doesn't come close to its rockfish predecessors.

Even creator Charlie Finley admits the fish that sits in his front yard at 2799 Stratford Lane is nowhere near the caliber of the ones all over downtown.

"It's pretty tacky," Finley says cheerfully. "It looks like something out of a trailer park."

Finley, a freelance editor for Verbatim Editing, says he loves the Go Fish! sculptures downtown. "I think it's just great art for the common folk," Finley says. He and his wife, Brenda, even went to Gloucester when they learned about that town's beehives.

Finley's fish spoof began in mid-May, when Finley decided he wanted a neighborhood mock-fish-building competition. But his real competition was going to be neighbor John Snow in a no holds barred trout bout.

Unfortunately, a bum knee pulled Snow out of the competition. Nonetheless, Finley finished his fish and at the beginning of June put it on display in front of his house.

A couple of weeks after it went back up, Finley put up a couple of ribbons and a phony certificate for awarding it a $100 prize as the best fish in the neighborhood. His wife joined in, decorating one side with paint and a few stickers.

The couple thought long and hard for a name for the fish. They finally came up with "Bait and Switch" because every day or two they rotate the fish to display a different side. The fish originally had a bait-and-tackle rig suspended from a coat hanger. But Finley had to remove that because his dog, Boomer, kept ripping it down to get its tennis-ball cork.

"It sounds like Mr. Finley, his friends and neighbors have caught the spirit of Go Fish!" says Suzanne Hall, a board member of 1708 Gallery and member of the Go Fish! Steering Committee. The Go Fish! project is about art, creativity and most importantly having fun, she says.

"Richmond has just embraced this," she says. "And it's been so much fun." — J.P.

Heavy-Metal Haven Twisters Abruptly Closes

Members of the six death-metal bands on the Summer Slaughter tour are milling aimlessly around Grace Street. One gives the pierced, black-clad teen-agers getting out of their parents' cars some glum news: "Show's cancelled. We're just telling you now so you don't miss your ride."

The doors of Twisters, a 13-year-old venue for local and national underground heavy-metal and punk bands at 329 W. Grace St., are locked and covered with plywood. This has come as a surprise to everyone standing in front of it. Just that afternoon the club had been abruptly boarded up; its scheduled shows have been canceled.

Jerry Burd, Twister's business manager for the past six years, says its doors were shut and the locks changed without his knowledge. "I can't even get my personal effects out," Burd says, including his Rolodex and some of his CDs.

Twisters lost its liquor license in March because its food sales were deemed too low.

When the club does open its doors, it might be singing a totally different tune.

"We're in a transition period," says Douglas "Bootsie" Whitt, wife of Twisters owner Vince Whitt. While workers repair the air conditioner and other minor things like bar cushions, the couple is considering other options for the club.

Although Whitt won't say what these options are, Burd says one might be to sell the place.

Burd believes the club's sudden closing results from the aftermath of a private birthday party for popular DJ Dsyde. As the party was wrapping up, numerous fights broke out, Burd says.

"It got ugly and police and the ambulances had to take people away," says Burd. The cause of the fights is unclear, Burd adds.

Whitt won't comment on that or say what the fate of Burd and his staff will be, but she says Twisters will be open in some form in the upcoming weeks.

Meanwhile Burd, who does all booking for the club and has bands scheduled as far ahead as November, has been working to find other venues. Burd says he hopes things work out for the club, although he doesn't think he'll be working there.

"I want to see Twisters survive," he says. — Jacob Parcell


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