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Richmond police commission presses for full-time misconduct investigator

By September 13, 2019 No Comments
More than 100 people have applied for the job of investigating misconduct complaints against the city's police department. (Photo courtesy of Richmond Police Department)

Richmond’s Community Police Review Commission is urging the City Council to hire an investigations officer who can dig into a growing backlog of complaints alleging police misconduct.

The job pays between $61 and $97 per hour and there have been nearly 100 applicants, but only about a dozen of them might be considered qualified, according to Assistant City Attorney Bruce Soublet.

“There are people who are interested in the job,” Soublet told the commissioners during a recent meeting at City Hall.

“The question is … do they reflect the values we want?” Soublet said. “You can be qualified and not have the right type of values for this community.”

The job used to be full-time, but there wasn’t always a full workload. Former Investigations Officer Don Casimere, who recently retired, reportedly also handled disputes over towed vehicles to round out his schedule.

Since Casimere’s retirement, however, the city turned the position into an on-call, part-time job. That’s at the heart of their difficulty filling it. Two people have been hired for the job in recent years, but both of them quickly moved on to better paying, full-time jobs.

“Because it’s part-time, people who have those qualifications tend to gravitate towards other jobs,” Councilman Jael Myrick, who serves as the City Council’s liaison to the police commission, explained to commissioners at the meeting.

“The way I see it,” said Commissioner Oscar Garcia, “it’s either no investigator or an investigator that doesn’t have enough work.”

“I think the City Council will have to make a decision if it wants to have an investigator,” Garcia said. “If it does, it will have to be a full-time position.”

Commissioner Yenny Garcia asked city officials to produce records of hours logged in previous misconduct investigations in order to establish a frame of reference.

Other commissioners suggested that it might be worthwhile to assign additional duties to justify full-time employment for the next investigations officer, or to hire someone full-time on a temporary basis.

“I think we have a number of pretty serious cases to investigate right now,” Commissioner Carol Hegstrom said. “I would think we would almost have enough work for a full-time investigator at least for a certain period of time.”

At one point in the city’s history, they went more than two years without an investigations officer, and several people at the meeting expressed concerns about letting this hiring process drag on like that a second time.

Myrick, however, said he would not let that happen.

“I’m committed to making sure we have at least an interim person in the next two months,” Myrick said. “I want to get that done before the end of October.”

The City Council was expected to take up the matter in closed session at a different meeting, according to Myrick. Hiring a full-time investigations officer will be expensive, however, and payroll was at the heart of a recent municipal budget battle.

Thirteen city staffers, including a number of department heads, were told they would be laid off due to a deficit during the eight-month tenure of former City Manager Carlos Martinez, but those layoffs were rescinded in June and Martinez was fired amid allegations of unfair labor practices in July.

In an unrelated development, Richmond Police Chief Allwyn Brown resigned this week following a vote of no confidence over Labor Day weekend by  rank and file officers of the Richmond Police Department. The resignation was announced by Interim City Manager Steve Falk.

“I have been in conversation with Chief Brown and the first thing I did was thank him for 35 years of distinguished service to the city, where he accepted a noble and difficult assignment, and he did it with grace,” Falk said. “Chief Brown informed me today that he will no longer serve as the police chief for the city of Richmond.”

Assistant Police Chief Bisa French has been appointed as the interim chief, marking the first point in Richmond city history that a black woman has served as top cop.

According to the city’s website, French has served with the Richmond Police Department since 1998. She was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 2006. She is a mother of three and holds a master’s degree in human resource management.

The no-confidence vote concerning Brown, which was approved by an 86 percent majority, came as officers cited problems with workplace and managerial culture.

“We’ve never held a no confidence vote in the history of this organization, but that’s unfortunately the boiling point we’ve come to,” Richmond Police Officers Association President Ben Therriault said.

“We’re headed in the wrong direction,” he said. “People don’t feel valued. It feels like a rudderless ship.”

Out of 139 votes, 117 of them were no, Therriault said. There were also 19 yes votes and three abstentions.

Multiple calls to the Richmond Police Department to allow Chief Brown an opportunity to comment on the vote went unreturned.