Richmond police officers used force in 6 percent of arrests last year while seizing 350-plus firearms

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Victim of suspected hit-and-run incident in Richmond ID'd
Photo from Richmond Police Department.

The Richmond Police Department said Tuesday it used force in about 6 percent of arrests last year, and has had just two fatal officer-involved deaths in more than a decade, due in part to the department’s nationally-recognized community policing policies that include extensive training of officers.

“I would challenge you to find a department in this country that uses force to anything close to [6-percent], particularly in a community that deals with as many kinds of calls for service and as many challenging situations as we do,” Chief Chris Magnus said.

Magnus and other top cops gave the report before City Council on Tuesday. Their presentation on RPD’s use of force policies was summoned by council following pressure from community members and activists who are calling for justice in the fatal shooting of Richard “Pedie” Perez, 24, by Richmond Officer Wallace Jensen on Sept. 14.

The hearing was also timely given the unrest in Baltimore over the death of a black man while in police custody.

In Richmond last year, where police took more than 350 guns off streets, roughly 185 sworn officers saw 12 use of force complaints, two of which were investigated independently by the Richmond Police Commission, Magnus said.

The department responded to 122,159 calls for service in 2014, of which 2,948 individuals were arrested for various crimes. Of those arrests, varying degrees of force were used in 182 cases, or 6-percent, police said.

In 61-percent of cases where police used force — in 111 incidents — arrestees did not sustain an injury enough to require medical evaluation at a hospital, police said.

Last year, the most common force used by RPD involved “pain compliance” techniques such as wrist locks, takedowns and pressure points, police said. A Taser was displayed 43 times by police, and nearly a quarter of the time it wasn’t used.

The chief attributes the low numbers to regular trainings that include real-life scenarios and instruction on handling subjects with mental illness. Also, the department conducts firearms training 10 times a year when most departments in the nation conduct one or two, Magnus said.

While many law enforcement agencies still employ the “old school” model of spending a day at the range to practice target shooting, RPD incorporates real-world situations and simulations and has gained national attention for teaching decision-making under stress and deescalation techniques, the chief said.

But RPD’s report Tuesday did little to ease the concerns of those angered with police over Perez’s shooting, with community members and activists saying Tuesday his case shows distrust with RPD. Others accused RPD of covering up Perez’s killing.

An investigation by the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office found that Jensen acted in self-defense. But members of the Oscar Grant Committee Against Police Brutality & State Repression say they have interviewed eyewitnesses who dispute the DA’s findings. They join the family in calling for RPD to release their internal investigation into Perez’s killing.

“Where is all this transparency?” said Rick Perez, Pedie’s father. “We’re not Baltimore here, but we should be because that’s the only we can get a federal investigation…All these internal investigations you got are amongst the blue brotherhood. It’s like a gang. The Hells Angels or something. They are going to back themselves the same way.”

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