21 Jun Q&A: Richmond Police Chief Bisa French Looks Ahead After $3 Million Cut
Richmond Police Chief Bisa French, photographed for a 2020 interview, talked to the Pulse this time about the department’s outlook after the City Council voted to cut its budget. (Denis Perez-Bravo / Richmond Pulse file)
Interview, Mathew Miranda
Editor’s Note: The Richmond City Council voted last week to take $3 million from the Police Department and spend that money on other services. The decision follows months of debate and a proposal to cut more than $10 million from the police budget. After the vote, Police Chief Bisa French talked to Richmond Pulse about what it means for the department and the community.
Richmond Pulse: What was your immediate reaction following the City Council’s decision to cut $3 million from the Police Department?
Bisa French: It was not the decision that I had hoped that they would make. I hoped to leave the police department whole and not have any reductions. However, now that the decision is made, I’m just wanting to move forward and figure out our operational deployment based on the resources that we have. And hopefully, work together as a community. I think that we should have been a little bit more collaborative during this process. And I’m hoping that moving forward we can work together more.
RP: You mentioned at a prior City Council meeting (June 1) that 18 officers were in various stages of hiring with other departments. Is that still true?
BF: Yes, 18 of them had applied with different departments. As of now, I have received three resignations, and I’m expecting another three probably in the next week or two. That’s six. I think there are a few that are going to end up staying with us. They didn’t want to leave and were just worried that they wouldn’t have a job. So I’m not sure how many will actually leave.
RP: Have you spoken with those officers, and is there a reason why they are resigning and heading to other departments?
BF: I’ve tried to talk to everybody, just letting them know that you’re not going to get laid off and hoping that they will now stay. But with the reimagining task force continuing their work, they’re worried that there will be future talks of further cuts because there are people on the task force that have been clear about their intentions to continue with reducing the police department. So they’re just worried that every year we are going to end up having this conversation or they want some security to not feel like they’re going to be laid off.
RP: Is this a trend that you believe will continue to happen?
BF: We first started seeing it last year with a couple of people resigning to get out of law enforcement altogether. So as things change there’s a lot of people that got into this work and had expectations of the job that have now changed.
RP: Moving forward, how are you going to be able to address all the city’s needs and issues with fewer officers?
BF: It depends on how many officers continue to leave. Several people have asked if there are impacts of losing the 12 vacant positions, and I’ve talked about the impacts that we’re already feeling because we haven’t had those 12 positions filled for the last year. So we’re going to continue to feel those impacts as more people leave, and it’s a challenge for us to hire because of these ongoing conversations. We might have to end up cutting additional services because of the resignations — at least until we could get staffing back up.
RP: Is there any chance that some of the city’s nine beats will no longer be patrolled at all times because of the fewer officers?
BF: No, that’s a contractual thing that we have to fulfill, and that’s a safety issue. I mean that’s not a lot of people to cover the entire city already. So we’ll always continue with that nine minimum staffing level, but other areas will end up suffering. So we won’t have as many people in our investigations, and we might eventually have to cut out our traffic unit because we have to fully staff our patrol.
RP: You’ve been with the department for 23 years. Is this the lowest staffing you’ve seen?
BF: Yes, now we’re authorized to have 145 police officers and about 25 of those are off on injury leave or light duty, so we’re down to about 120 officers working.