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Securing a City

Immediately, Monroe started doing things his way, putting more police on the street in high-crime neighborhoods and establishing an investigative unit that focuses solely on homicides. Most significantly, from many officers' perspectives, he instituted permanent shifts and a sector-policing strategy, in which officers are dedicated to patrolling specific sectors within precincts.

Some officers, unhappy about the changes, have threatened to leave the force. Monroe says he did what he had to do to keep crime down. He points to overall drops in crime and the department's closure rate for homicides, which is the highest closure rate in the last five years. "Those things don't happen for people with low morale," he says, adding, "The men and woman of this department want to do a good job." He and the mayor are working on a pay-raise plan to be announced in early 2006.

As of November, 80 homicides were reported in Richmond, compared with 86 in the same period last year. Violent crime was down 10 percent over 2004. Yet Richmond earned the title of third most dangerous midsized city in the United States this year, based on 2004 crime data.

And locking up criminals doesn't mean they're safely put away, city residents discovered this year. On Memorial Day, city jail inmate Shamar Lamont Young, 19, broke out of his cell and beat to death fellow inmate Gregory G. Robinson, 47. The incident brought to life the severity of security problems at the decrepit, teeming jail, where inmates had made a habit of jamming door locks so they could walk around freely.

The opening of the jail doors likely helped close the door on Michelle B. Mitchell's career as city sheriff, a post she held for 12 years. Retired city homicide detective C.T. Woody won the office in November. He vowed to seek money for a new jail, to tighten security and to welcome help from faith-based programs and other nonprofits in order to reduce recidivism. "And I am going to lock the door!" he said.

2005 was the year of optimism that these new leaders could make a significant change. 2006 will be the proving ground: Will city officers stay on the force? Will Woody bring the jail under control? Most importantly, will Richmond finally lose its reputation as a murderous city? S

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