Resident on RPD’s officer shortage: ‘It seems as if we’re going backwards’

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RICHMOND, Va. -- Residents are reacting to the Richmond Police Department's officer shortage as leaders grapple with an increase in violent crime in the city.

Pamela Smith-Simmons, the president of the Blackwell/Chicago Neighborhood Watch group, lives close to where a man's body was discovered inside a car earlier this week. That man's death was Richmond's 23rd homicide of 2016.

"Everybody that lived on this street was upset -- and they were shocked," Pamela Smith-Simmons said. "To know that there was a dead body in a car at the corner store," Smith-Simmons said.

Officers responded to calls for shots fired at the 701 convenience store on Jeff Davis Highway Tuesday night. They found a man with multiple gunshot wounds deceased inside a car.

Police are still searching for the person responsible.

And that has Smith-Simmons, who has lived on Chicago Avenue for 16 years, a little on edge.

"I feel safe in my neighborhood. I feel safe on my street because we worked hard to get our street to this level," Smith-Simmons explained.

The latest homicide happened as the police department is dealing with a serious manpower shortage.

"I'm down 40, 44 officers to be exact but more importantly, I have to worry about the morale and my men and women are looking at me, 'Chief what do you want to do about it?'" Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham said. "And there's only so much and I feel helpless."

Smith-Simmons said neighbors are already feeling the impact of the shortage.

"If I were to call the police about something serious now I would say they would probably come in about an hour," Smith-Simmons estimated.

Chief Alfred Durham said some officers are leaving the department for higher pay in other jurisdictions.

However, Durham maintains public safety is not being compromised at this time and called his recent town hall meetings a way to be pro-active instead of re-active by calling on the public to help fight crime.

Besides patrol officers, the chief said there are other shortages within the department since some officers are shifting to handle homicide investigations until the department can fill those vacancies.

But Smith-Simmons worries that won't be enough.

"So, that means we can expect more crime as simple as that," Smith-Simmons said. "It seems as if we're going backwards. Instead of forward."

Durham said 30 police recruits are graduating from the academy sometime this summer. But that it will take a number of months before they are up to speed.

And with officers leaving the Richmond Police Department, that could make fighting crime even more challenging.