Does the national climate impact an officer’s decision to pull someone over?

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Violent crime is up in the City of Richmond and it has some residents on edge.

Richmond resident Leann Stiff told 8News that for the most part she feels safe in Richmond, but admits at night, “I think twice about when I go out.”

Detective Brad Nixon, President of the Richmond Coalition of Police, said there’s a shortage in the numbers of officers.

“We have lower numbers on the streets, so that affords officers less ability to do proactive police work, which includes traffic stops,” Nixon said.

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Nixon said a shortage in officers combined with the national climate for cops can impact an officer’s decision to pull someone over.

“Officers are under a severe microscope,” said Nixon.

8News has found officers are uneasy too, and as a result that speeder or driver with a tail light out may get a pass from police.

8News has uncovered a big drop in traffic stops here in the Richmond region. Perhaps most notable from 2015 to 2016, officer-initiated stops dropped 17 percent in the City of Richmond while traffic stops are down 16 percent in Chesterfield County.

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Sometimes police are targeted. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, 64 cops shot and killed in the line of duty last year. 21 of those officers killed were ambushed.

Chesterfield County Deputy Chief of Police Dan Kelly said he thinks officers think about possibly being targeted while on duty.

“I think it is in the back of their mind,” Kelly said.

Nixon added, “They’re thinking about their families.'”

Richmond’s Deputy Chief Steve Drew said safety for their own officers comes first.

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“Certainly it is going to be safer for two or three officers to stop somebody,” Drew said.

However, that can’t always be a reality. Both departments have seen a sharp increase in radio calls.

Kelly said, “Last year we had a 11 percent increase in calls for service.”

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With more calls for help and fewer officers to respond that could mean an officer could make a traffic stop with no back up available.

Nixon said, “That officer may think twice about conducting a traffic stop knowing that his backup maybe tied up.”

Kelly said Chesterfield did see a big increase in officers requesting back up or an assist.

“I think is an indicator that our officers are more concerned about each other,” said Kelly.

Chesterfield and Henrico continue to try to recruit new officers. Richmond just graduated a new class and a new recruit class has started.

“That officer may think twice about conducting a traffic stop knowing that his backup maybe tied up.”

The department hopes the additional recruits will help give officers the back-up they are looking for.

8News also took a look at arrest data in the region and found across the board arrests are down.

In Chesterfield County, arrests are down 13 percent, in Richmond arrests dropped 10 percent and in Henrico arrests are down two percent.

All three departments tell us arrests don’t make a community safer. They attribute the drop to more community outreach connecting folks to services — not handcuffs.

Henrico Police issued this statement to 8News,

“We encourage our officers to focus on engaging our citizens and looking for solutions before issues become problems.”

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