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For Richmond police, crime's become a real pain in the hand

Street Talk

Crime Causes Writer's Cramp for Local Police
Valentine Gets Curatorial Re-dress
Huguenot Band Director Pushes Hard, Gets Results
Cool Stuff at Library Just a Keystroke Away
Local Micro Community Signs Off for FCC
Ancient Murder Mystery Gets Crime Stopper Plug
Crime Causes Writer's Cramp for Local Police Richmond police may not be up in arms, exactly, but they're up to their ears in paperwork. So, what else is new? Namely, the way Richmond police now are required to fill out their crime reports. The process looks more like a standardized test with multiple choice answers than an incident report. Did the crime occur in a rental storage facility? Was the weapon an explosive? What was the point of entry? A rooftop or maybe a skylight? There are 24 bias motivations to choose from. And putting together the suspect's physical characteristics is like creating your own Mr. Potato Head. Not surprisingly, the new six-page form is often more of a puzzle than the crime itself. The days of just filling out the particulars — fill-in-the-blank style with a brief description at the bottom of the page — are gone. Here instead, are the days of incident-based reporting. What's that? Aren't all crimes incident-based? Yes, but not all crime reports were. Before Jan. 1, 2000, the Richmond Police followed a documenting procedure known as uniform crime reporting. But now with high-speed computers and increased information sharing between the State Police and the FBI, Richmond police have been given the squeeze by federal agencies to make the switch that some local counties already had made. "A lot more information is being processed these days," says Michele Mason in the records office of the Chesterfield County police. "We revamped our entire records system," says Mason, who explains that Chesterfield police now call in their crime reports to a records specialist who leads the officer through a series of questions, thus doing the actual documenting for the officer. Chesterfield made the transition to national incident-based reporting more than a year ago. Under this form, lengthy though it may be, all information about a crime is fed into a nationally linked computer, standardizing the process for how crimes are filed. "Our report already had been updated," says Capt. S. M. Meredith Jr. of the Henrico Police Department who says that they, too, switched to incident-based reporting about a year ago. And of the Richmond police's frustrations, Meredith says, "We were prepared and didn't go through all that." Still, it's only been two weeks since the new process began in Richmond and understandably, it's confusing. Insiders say police copying machines have been going berserk. "To be honest, I don't know much about it," says Det. Ron Brown with the police media relations office. "I haven't filled one out yet." - Brandon Walters Valentine Gets Curatorial Re-dress Greensboro is calling. Specifically, the City Museum of Greensboro. Calling Jon Zachman, the Valentine Museum's curator of general collections. And insiders say he'll be sorely missed. Two years ago, says Bill Martin, the museum's director, Zachman "walked in and his first task was to curate 'A Century of Collecting,' it was quite an undertaking. He really mined carefully the museum, and astonished people with the breadth of the Valentine ... everything from Curles Neck bottles to partnerships with Richmond neighborhoods ...." The national search is now on. But, it's not for Zachman's curator slot. That position is spoken for. Instead, the museum is looking for a new registrar. According to Martin, Katrina Elia, who has served for nearly four years as the museum's registrar, is the perfect fit for the curator job. "Her principal focus will be on management and improving the storage and care of the collection. It's not glamorous," explains Martin. Still, as a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, Elia shows an early flair for unexpected stylings. Her first role as curator is to put together "Fashion Recycled," a redux of Richmond fashion as an historical trunk show. "She knows what's fun," says Martin. Virginia Waste Management could even be involved. "It's an opportunity to build partnerships," explains Martin. "We'd like to use recycling bins as props." — Brandon Walters Huguenot Band Director Pushes Hard, Gets Results Vindicating their controversial music director, Huguenot High School's jazz and marching bands won first-place honors at the Peach Bowl in Atlanta last month. The marching band bested nine others, from schools scattered in states east of the Mississippi and as far north and south as Michigan and Florida. The jazz unit won the "grand champion" trophy and carried away four awards for outstanding soloists. And, along with 73,315 others in the Georgia Dome, the kids had fun. Finally had fun, some might say. Music director William Prentiss Jr. joined Huguenot this year from Portsmouth and quickly developed a reputation for demanding complete discipline and dedication from his students. Bottom line: Several parents complained and band members quit. "There was a little tension," a trumpet player says. "Kids become loyal [to previous band directors] and they don't accept change as much. He's tougher on them. I guess it was just his style. He turned everything around and it's a better group. Only the non-dedicated ones dropped out." Prentiss acknowledges his style hasn't worked with every student. "In any transition, it's a little tough. We had a rough start just trying to make the adjustment to each other," he says. "We have some small problems still with each other," but the band now is "a really strong group, a really spirited group." Winning band contests such as those at the Peach Bowl is important not only for the students musically, but in other ways and endeavors, he argues: "It's all about accountability and results. [The Peach Bowl wins] help not only them but their parents as well," and validate the time, trouble and costs of having a child in the program. For Prentiss, who before coming to Huguenot led a band to victory at the prestigious Toronto Music Festival, the wins now also mean setting the school's sights higher: "We're looking at something different for next year." - Rob Morano Cool Stuff at Library Just a Keystroke Away Soon thousands of Richmond's visually and physically disabled can check out more than Braille books and tapes from the public library. As part of a three-year strategic plan to upgrade technology and become more accessible to more people, the Main Branch of the Richmond Public Library opens its new Assistive Technology Computer Center. A ribbon-cutting ceremony with Mayor Tim Kaine takes place Jan. 20 at 10 a.m. in the Literature and History Department. Funded by grants from the Human Serices Commission, The Library of Virginia and the Circuit City Foundation, the center features two prototype workstations, one for the physically and visually impaired and one for the legally blind. Software includes a computer screen reader, support for Internet browsing, a multilingual synthesizer and a video magnifier. "It steps out a lot further than Braille technology," says City Librarian Robert Rieffel. "This is one of those [if we] build it will they come things," explains Rieffel. When the workstations aren't occupied anyone can use the equipment, but physically and visually impaired library-goers get first dibs, cautions Rieffel. "There will be automatic bumping." — Brandon Walters Local Micro Community Signs Off for FCC Once again, the heat over Richmond radio — or lack of it — is on. This time, the Federal Communications Commission beat Richmond's community of low-power radio station advocates to the punch. In an unexpected move, the FCC announced little more than a week ago that it would address the issue of whether or not low-power radio stations should be allowed to co-exist on frequencies nearby bigger commercial stations at its Jan. 20 meeting in Washington D.C. Consistently in previous rulings, the FCC has ruled against low-power station initiatives, claiming that they potentially could cause interference with the premium paying stations. "We weren't expecting any action until March," exclaims Christopher Maxwell, one of the founders of the grassroots Radio Free Richmond Project, a loyal group of activists who feel Richmond radio is controlled by a monopoly of corporate bullies and self-interest groups. But Maxwell says the FCC has only won the first round. Come Thursday, his group, RFR, will spar against the federal watchdog agency with more than 1,200 signatures on its petition — a strategy Maxwell claims will win persistence points. "I don't have a crystal ball," says Maxwell, "but the FCC has never received so many public comments on a regulatory proposal." Still, Maxwell concedes it's likely the FCC will try to offer RFR and other free radio supporters a watered-down reason for why micro stations aren't desirable. "I think they want to get it out of the way," says Maxwell about why the FCC may have moved up the date to consider arguments for low-power stations. And for Maxwell, this date couldn't be more crucial. Perhaps only a blip on the mass media radar screen, for Maxwell, this vote is nothing less than a benchmark in self-governing: "This could be the pivotal turning point for participatory democracy." - Brandon Walters Ancient Murder Mystery Gets Crime Stopper Plug Some may say he's dreaming. But Det. David Crane of the Richmond Police Department says skeptics don't bother him. And even though more than 70 years have passed since the unsolved and untimely murder of Ashland Police Chief Harry Smeeman, Crane says it's still a crime worth investigating. What's more, he's optimistic a killer will be caught. Inspired by an article he read in Style last July on Smeeman and his family's attempt to find closure, Crane pushed to get the case featured on Crime Stoppers, a media project of local city and county police departments that encourages — and even pays for — citizens to help solve crime. Finally, Crane is getting his chance. The mysterious homicide of Chief Harry Smeeman will be the featured Crime Stoppers crime of the week beginning Jan. 24. Details of the 1929 crime will be broadcast on local TV channels and across 19 radio stations. "We kept bumping it up because we didn't want it to impede anything fresh," says Crane, "and I'm sure there'll be some detractors who think we're wasting our time," even though financial support for Crime Stoppers comes from area businesses at no cost to individual taxpayers. Still, Crane thinks the killer's still out there, and maybe, just maybe, Crime Stoppers will prompt the clue. "Anytime you get a tip on a homicide investigation that might help solve the murder of a police officer," says Crane. "I think it's worth a shot." - Brandon Walters

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