With the violence in Ferguson finally winding down this week, many folks are struggling to make sense of it all. I myself have read so many differing accounts of the events that transpired between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson, that I refuse to take a side on that incident, at least for now. What we can positively conclude though, is that the police are out of control in many parts of the country.
Michael Brown’s death aside, we’ve all seen the outrageous antics of the Ferguson Police Department this year. More importantly, many of us have seen the trigger happy nature of police in our own communities, and we’ve seen them get away with murder over and over again.
The police of course, almost never admit to being wrong. Only under extreme public backlash, will they begin to sheepishly admit that their department has a problem, and start reforming their practices. However, that’s not always the case. Some police departments have faced their problems head on, and with amazing results.
For decades, the city of Richmond, California was considered one of the most violent cities in the America. Just a few years ago, the city was among the top ten most dangerous places in America. While the city’s crime rate has seen a significant decline in recent years, it’s still a fairly dangerous city, with a total of 16 murders occurring in 2013. And like any city with a history of violence, you would expect to find an equally draconian police force to keep the population in line. However, you would be pleasantly surprised.
A spate of high-profile police shootings nationwide, most notably the killing of a black teen in Ferguson, Missouri, has stoked intense scrutiny of deadly force by officers and driven a series of demonstrations across the nation and the Bay Area. But in Richmond, historically one of the most violent cities in the Bay Area, the Police Department has averaged fewer than one officer-involved shooting per year since 2008, and no one has been killed by a cop since 2007.
That track record stands in sharp contrast to many other law enforcement agencies in the region, according to a review of data compiled from individual departments.
Many observers and police officials attribute Richmond’s relatively low rate of deadly force to reforms initiated under Chief Chris Magnus, who took over a troubled department in this city of 106,000 in 2006. Magnus implemented a variety of programs to reduce the use of lethal force, including special training courses, improved staffing deployments to crisis situations, thorough reviews of all uses of force and equipping officers with nonlethal weapons such as Tasers and pepper spray.
Whatever they are doing, it’s working far better than some of the neighboring police departments. Richmond isn’t far from several nearby cities that range in population and levels of violent crime. In fact, even cities that are significantly smaller than Richmond have more people killed by police.