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Crime Jolts Our Perceptions

Negative perceptions persist. In 1994, a record 160 homicides made Richmond one of the deadliest cities in the nation. It seemed impossible then to imagine the turnaround to come. But things quieted down. We moved out of crisis mode. And here we are with a crime spike that reminds us how quickly things can change. Still, as we long to embrace the notion of Richmond as a “gem on the James,” as Jamison envisions, we find ourselves returning to the matter of public safety and whether we can rightly address, let alone ensure it.

Violent crime is cyclical and multifaceted, city officials say. In recent months it has shaken and stirred our dreams like a decade ago. There have been nearly 100 homicides in Richmond in 2003, up from 84 last year. More than 300 people have been shot in the city. And while Chesterfield and Hanover counties report little if any surge in homicides, Henrico County has seen at least a 150 percent increase.

Style included few references to the area’s violent crime problem in its weekly Score columns for 2003. We noted Fan muggings in January, the end of state funds to Richmond’s Project Exile in April and the state’s attorney general convening a special panel to discuss gangs throughout Virginia. In October we negatively scored Police Chief André Parker’s plan for citizens to become trained as volunteer sworn officers, and his public acknowledgment of what many in Richmond had believed all along: We have a gang problem. But most of our stories on crime, and efforts to combat it, went beyond The Score and into our news and feature pages.

On Dec. 10, the Task Force on Preventing Crime in the Minority Community, a new 22-member team formed by Gov. Mark Warner, held its first public forum at George Wythe High School. It seems fitting that with a population of 196,000 and more than 25 percent of the state’s violent crime, Richmond was the place Warner chose to kick off his quest for solutions. The team has been asked to report its statewide findings to the 2005 General Assembly. Meanwhile, Richmond Police and city officials say anticrime plans such as “Blue Wave” and “Weed and Seed” will continue working to curb the violent crimes, as well as the lesser ones that tend to escalate into it.

At a public safety meeting in November at Armstrong High School, Parker trumpeted plans to recruit 25 citizen officers a year for the next four years, each to be trained over a nine-month period. They will carry guns and respond to situations as any sworn officer would. In addition, he says, of the 100 or so vacancies that have plagued police, nearly all should be filled by the end of the month. The commonwealth’s attorney has pressed City Council to ask the Richmond Circuit Court to expand the jurisdiction of Virginia Commonwealth University Police.

Then there are the hidden video cameras. In the spring, Richmond Police proposed installing 20 to 30 mobile video cameras for 24-hour surveillance in high-crime areas. By the end of December, at least three of the cameras should be up and running. One is slated for Chandler Middle School, another for an area on Government Road. The third is to be installed somewhere at City Hall. — Brandon Walters


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