Richmond police report significant increase in shootings

Image credit: Richmond Police Department

Richmond police are reporting a significant uptick in shootings in the city, particularly this month.

On Tuesday, the police department released a map showing city locations for Shotspotter gunshot detection activations during the months of September and August. The Shotspotter system records gunfire rounds when and where they happen. Such activations have increased 40 percent this month when comparing to all of August, police said. In August, there were 83 Shotspotter activations, while in September there have been 116.

At a virtual public safety town hall on Thursday, Richmond police Chief Bisa French said there were 603 Shotspotter activations from Jan. 1 through Sept. 24.

“That’s a lot of rounds being fired across our city,” Chief French said.

As of Sept. 24, there were also 16 homicides this year, just one shy of the 17 total all of last year. The killings have all occurred since April, as the city had been homicide-free for a six-month period from October last year through April, Chief French said.

Of the 16 homicides this year, three were related to domestic violence, two involved homeless people, five involved disputes (drug transaction gone bad or something along those lines), four were considered related to gang activity, one was an officer-involved shooting involving Oakland police, and the motive in another case remains unknown, police said.

Also during Thursday’s town hall, RPD reported 101 total shootings in 2020, including 57 that involved reported victims (including non-injured victims). All of last year, the city had an all-time-low of 37 shooting victims, police said.

The uptick in gun violence has largely been happening since June, but September has been the busiest month, Chief French said.

“There’s a myriad reasons, and we don’t know exactly why we’re experiencing this level of violence,” she said. “Covid could be playing a part in it. Neighborhood disputes…the homeless issues, domestic violence issues. There’s just a lot of different reasons, and to be honest we can’t pinpoint any one reason the violence has been occurring.”

Chief French said some of the violence can be attributed to an increase in shootings between members of Latino gangs.

The violence is also happening while RPD grapples with significant budget cuts due to the city’s financial struggles. And it is also occurring amid ongoing calls to re-envision public safety in the city in response to the national defund police movement.

Chief French say the RPD is poised to partner with a City Council-formed working group that aims to re-imagine public safety in the city. Public safety is not just a police department issue, “it’s a community issue,” Chief French said in welcoming local organizations to come to the table on solutions.

“This is not an easy problem to address,” the chief said. “We’re all in this together and I hope that we will continue to have these conversations and partner…”