RPD: Homicides triple in 2016 as drug overdoses also spike

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Richmond residents say they are frightened by a spike of crime in the city this year.

“In the last few months we’ve seen just an enormous rate of crime,” community activist Valerie Coley during a town hall meeting Wednesday night. “Murders, assaults, and mob beatings have been going on.” Now community members are taking those fears to police.

Now, community members are taking those fears to police.

Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham took questions from them during a town hall meeting at Cedar Street Baptist Church on Wednesday night. As the first of four planned meetings, topics ranged from gun violence to drug addiction. Chief Durham also addressed the staffing shortage the department is currently facing.

Homicides in 2016 have skyrocketed 250 percent over the number for the same period in 2015.

“We started off the year rough,” Chief Durham told the crowd. “Right now, to date, we have 21 homicides compared to six last year.”

“Right now, to date, we have 21 homicides compared to six last year.”

In 2015, the number of homicides did not climb to 21 until August.

“We’re against some serious odds trying to curtail this,” said Durham.

Police are also trying to attack another crisis: drug overdoses. “It’s having an impact on public safety, an impact on families, and an impact on life,” the chief said. The number of reported overdoses stands at more than 130 for the year.

“It’s having an impact on public safety, an impact on families, and an impact on life,” the chief said. The number of reported overdoses stands at more than 130 for the year.

“Heroin overdoses, we’re 100% up on death. We’re 280% up on non-lethals,” said Captain Michael Zohab.

Years ago, Coley said she dealt heroin herself. She said there is hope for those battling addiction.

“They can be successful. I’m a witness to that,” Coley told 8News.

Police said they are changing their approach when dealing with overdose survivors.

“We’re finding out what other substances they’re using, if they want help, their sources and we’re following up on every single one,” Captain Zohab said.

Meanwhile, the department is also fighting an uphill battle for resources. Durham said a shortage of officers is making it more difficult for the department to fight crime. Richmond Police currently has 42 vacancies, and Chief Durham said he’s losing officers because of restricted funding.

“I have officers leaving, three per month this year, because they have not been paid what was promised to them. That’s fair, but I have nothing left to offer,” he said.

Durham says remaining officers are getting overworked, and the department’s investigative, narcotics and other units are under-staffed.

In the city’s amended budget, Chief Durham said projected funding will allow the department to hire 15 officers, leaving more than two dozen vacancies remaining.

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