Tom Butt Doesn’t Understand Public Safety

Mayor Butt’s obsession with Reimagine Public Safety Community Task Force member Tamisha Torres-Walker continues. Torres-Walker, who serves as a City Councilwoman in Antioch, recently made a call for the hiring of four more police officers in the district she represents.

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Mind the Gap

As Richmond and other cities around the country engage in groundbreaking budgetary reform efforts, transferring resources from distended police budgets to strapped social services, a narrative is emerging that such changes create a “gap in services.” City staff and others have argued that there should be no cuts in the police budget to  “ensure there are no gaps in services while implementation actions are undertaken.” But this is a specious argument.

The logic behind the “gap in services” narrative is that while any cuts to the police budget would be felt immediately, the crime-reducing impact of social services would take time to emerge to fill its place. The flaw that holds this argument together is the mistaken belief that the police are currently providing critical social services. While it’s true that the police really are the front line of contact for all manner of incident, from mental illness crises, to truancy, to community disputes, it is decidedly not the case that they are providing our communities with what we might recognize as effective support in these areas.

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Richmond FY 2021-22 Budget

The 2021/22 General Fund Budget passed on June 29, 2021. It is balanced, with revenues totaling $188.5 million, expenditures totaling $187.85 million, and includes funds for reimagining public safety, adding to the  “reserves“, increased staff compensation (Cost of Living Adjustments), facility improvements and subsidy to the housing authority.


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Here Ye, Here Ye, Voices Crying out for Better Safety in our City

Reimagining Public Safety was front and center at the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) recent quarterly membership meeting. We hosted a panel with the intention of informing our members and opening up our conversation to the public. We also wanted to broaden the dialogue about how RPA can participate more actively in this critical campaign. 

This panel included seven speakers, followed by a Q&A. We brought different voices to the table to talk about public safety. The planners acknowledged there are many sides of this contentious issue so we aimed to get people thinking beyond the one perspective most often presented to the public, that is, “police = safety.” And since police and other city officials have dominated the narrative with that one equation, we chose to focus on other stakeholders whose safety needs urgently need to be heard and addressed.

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Video: Reimagining Public Safety in Richmond, a Year in Review

It was just over a year ago when the previous Richmond City Council initiated the process of establishing a formal task force to Reimagine Public Safety in Richmond. Between the Task Force and the Council there have been hours and hours of discussion on this subject, including analyzing relevant data, developing programatic strategies and implementation plans, and developing a budget to support this vision of a safer Richmond. Please check out this video for an overview.

The Mayor and Corruption Charges

Last week, we learned from the email newsletter of Mayor Tom Butt that he has been under investigation for corruption. Local media has picked up the story as well. City Manager Laura Snideman and City Attorney Teresa Stricker were concerned enough about accusations a city employee made against him that they hired an outside attorney and private investigator to examine some of his business dealings. 

Details about the accusation or what was learned in the investigation had not yet been released by a reliable source -- initially only Mayor Butt was talking. 

Butt claims the accusation against him was baseless and that he did nothing wrong. Time will tell if that is true, but his response to being investigated is inappropriate and offensive.

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Police Layoffs Are Not Happening

In recent weeks, a sudden preoccupation with police layoffs entered the public conversation around the Reimagine Public Safety Community Task Force proposals. The origins of this fear have been difficult to track, as the Task Force provided numerous sample budgets for city staff to refer to when implementing the proposals—none of which included layoffs. Instead, the four pillars of the public safety program were to be funded through such budgetary procedures as eliminating frozen police positions, staff vacancies, and unnecessary contracts with private firms. Eliminating the twelve police department vacancies, for example, would save the city $3 million dollars annually while maintaining the same level of police services from last year.

The budgetary process has also indicated that Richmond is working with a sizable surplus this year (roughly $15.6 million dollars). These noticeable increases in the City’s revenue streams came thanks to voters who passed Measure H, known as the Real Estate Transfer Tax, in 2018. Because of this surplus, we can afford to fund the Reimagine proposals and not take all the funds from the police. The availability of these funds, coupled with the money that can be trimmed from the police budget, makes layoffs unnecessary. 

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Beyond Policing: Richmond’s Successful Public Safety Policy

One recurring worry about the Reimagine Public Safety Community Task Force  proposals has been the accusation that the Task Force is recommending untested public safety practices. Critics and concerned residents both, particularly those with memories of Richmond’s violent crime rate through 2010, have expressed understandable anxiety about the return of rampant gun violence and indiscriminate shootings. But these fears and anxieties are unwarranted. Richmond already has a proven program in place—the Office of Neighborhood Safety (ONS). What ONS needs is adequate funding to expand and continue their groundbreaking work. 

Richmond began the work of reimagining policing in 2007, when it established ONS. At the time, Richmond was ranked the ninth most dangerous city in the country, and previous efforts to curb shootings and other violent crime yielded little discernible success. The ONS was not shy about taking a new approach: it would not be another arm of Richmond’s police force. Instead, the new program harnessed deep knowledge of our community, data aggregation, and cutting-edge theories about violence to craft its strategy. 


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Global Anti-Chevron Day 2021

Photo credit: Arthur Koch, Artist credit: David Solnit

Hundreds of Richmond residents participated in the 8th annual Global Anti-Chevron Day on May 21, 2021. Linking the struggles for justice in Richmond, Ecuador and Myanmar, communities damaged by Chevron shared their stories about the impact of the oil company’s environmental destruction and human rights violations. This annual action occurs in advance of Chevron’s annual shareholder’s meeting.

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Urgent Response Needed! Send public comment to DTSC by June 25!

The City of Richmond signed a Development Agreement last December allowing HRP Campus Bay Property, LLC to build 4,000 residential units on top of the old Stauffer Chemical waste site, currently owned by Astra-Zeneca. Before the Development Agreement can be finalized, however, the developer (HRP) and the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), must sign off on a Prospective Purchaser Agreement allowing the transfer of the land from Zeneca (aka Cherokee Simeon LLC) to HRP. The Prospective Purchaser Agreement (PPA) is a legal document indemnifying both the DTSC and the purchaser (HRP) from lawsuits. The public has until June 25 to comment on this agreement, by emailing public comment letter to [email protected] and [email protected]

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