RICHMOND, Va. -- The Richmond Police Department is a national leader when it comes to homicide clearance rate, according to a decade of research by the Washington Post . Newspaper reporters paper found that of the 55,000 homicides it mapped out across 55 major American cities, less than half resulted in arrests.
The Richmond Police Department, it found, was the exception with a clearance rate of 71 percent. From 2007-2017, according to the Post, arrests were made in 351 of the 495 Richmond homicides.
The ‘lucky ones’
Looking at those statistics, Kele Wright considers herself one of the ‘lucky ones.’
“I was one of the lucky ones,” said Wright. “I can’t imagine what those other parents, families, people are feeling because they don’t have closure like I do.”
December 19, 2015, 12-year-old Amiya Moses was outside playing at a friend’s house in the 4900 bock of Old Brook Road. Wright was on her way to pick up her daughter when she received a phone call that changed her life.
“I get a phone call my daughter is shot,” Wright explained through tears. “My daughter was shot and on her way to MCV.”
“Her lungs had collapsed,” she said. “They came in and told me she did not make it. Everything went blank.”
Moses was caught in the crossfire.
Four men were arrested and convicted in connection with the Henderson Middle School student's death.
"They’re caged animals like they’re supposed to be," Wright said. "We need that because you don’t know, you could be walking down the street or living next door to the person.”
Wright credited Richmond Police for getting her through the last three years.
"They helped me a whole lot they kept me informed they sent people out everywhere I went,” said Wright. “They helped me out a great deal with everything even being down at the courthouse during the trial.”
"There’s not a police department in this country that doesn’t want to solve a murder," Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham said. "I can tell you that now!"
For Chief Durham, that mission is personal.
Durham lost his 38-year-old brother Kenzell Durham in 2005.
Kenzell was shot on the job at a Washington D.C. automotive shop.
Police said he and a customer argued over a defective tire rim. Investigators said the customer returned with a gun later that evening and killed Kenzell.
“I lost my brother and you live with that every day,” explained Durham. “I never thought I would be getting that phone call from a homicide detective that my loved one was murdered and it shaped me because I made a commitment to him as long as I have the ability the authority, I don’t ever want anyone to go through what I went through.”
To achieve that, Durham said his department has turned to the community and outreach efforts.
“We can’t do it without them,” said Durham. “Public safety is a shared responsibility. If we don’t have the community, their trust, and we have to trust them, we wouldn’t be able to have this exceptional closure rates that we have.”
“Violent crime is everybody’s business,” Richmond Police Captain James Laino said. "I believe every positive interaction an officer has with a citizen or anybody within the city of Richmond it goes a long way. You just never know when that person will be the one to witness a crime or pass by something and decide to call."
Solving the crime
Captain Laino oversees the Richmond Police Major Crimes division.
It’s made up of seven units and close to 70 people.
He joined the division in 2004 and has been with the department for 25 years.
“In the mid 2000s there was a restructuring where we went to dedicated homicide teams and we separated our violent crime,” said Laino.
Laino said the division took a team approach.
"Initially, when I was a patrol officer, you’d typically see maybe one detective maybe two and then a forensics detective that was handling a crime scene,” said Laino.
“We have at minimum a sergeant, a detective sergeant, four detectives, and anyone else here and available.”
“From there, we are able to gather facts and move the investigation along quickly because you have a multitude of people doing the tasks that need to be done to solve the crime.”
“When someone gets killed in the city of Richmond an army shows up,” Richmond Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Learned Barry said.
Laino also credited the department’s success to its relationship with the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office.
“You’ve got a prosecutor with the detective within hours of the killing and they work with you all the way through,” said Barry. “We are with them there in the beginning and they are there with us at the end.”
Laino said those in the division understand it’s not a 9-5 job.
“I’m home with my family and get the call then come out and I’m out util 3 or 4 in the morning,” he said. “That’s what we signed up to do that’s what we’re committed to do.”
“It is a huge investment on a personal level people understand there’s some things outside of their work life that have to be put on hold,” Laino said.
“It’s that investment that those in this department make and this division make everyday and with that hard work and commitment has led to a successful and really good clearance rate which is helpful to the department and the division.”
“We work every day towards that goal of identifying, arresting, and a successful prosecution,” said Laino. “The hard part about receiving this recognition, there’s still some families out there that we haven’t been able to so that’s the tough part.”
“Even though we’re happy with our success rate and closures of those homicides, we still have 144 cases from the last 11 years that are still open there is no closure for those families yet they’re still suffering,” said Durham.
Angela's late boyfriend’s case is one of the 144 unsolved murders.
“Living in it, it’s a nightmare every day,” Angela said.
Ron Holder, a father of two, was murdered on October 14, 2016 as he went to open the Dollar General store he managed off Walmsley Boulevard.
Police believe robbery was the motive.
Angela has leaned on Richmond Police the last two years and is a regular at the department’s homicide support group.
“They’ve made it very personable for me to really have an approach to them,” said Angela. “I can talk with someone about his case on both sides the legal side the aspects involving the case and the grief side knowing they deal with this on a daily basis."
“It helps us that they know that there’s families and loved ones out there that are still missing them and still wanting their case solved.”
Angela said she was encouraged by the department’s homicide clearance rate knowing that the odds were in her favor that one day justice would be served for her late boyfriend.
“I’ve been reassured,” she said. “I have a lot of hope that they’re going to continue to work as hard as they can to get his case solved.”
“That part of that closure is crucial,” said Wright. “You can’t start grieving until you go through that.”
Laino said the department strives for a 100 percent clearance rate.
“There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t think about how do we get better,” he said. “We want to find closure and offer closure to the family of every homicide victim. so that’s our goal and that’s with every crime we investigate here as a division it’s not just homicides.”
“Understanding where we came from and where we are going. You always want to get better whether it’s additional technology, staffing changes additional staffing you’re always looking to get better,” said Laino. “How do we build better relationships internally and also externally.”
“It’s making sure we’re doing everything we’ve been doing to get us to this point and then building on that,” he added.
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