Richmond Pulse, News Report, Posted: Jan 14, 2015
Image: Officer Brandon Ruffin chats with a group of locals barbecuing in the Veteran’s Memorial Hall parking lot. (Photo by Martin Totland, courtesy of Richmond Confidential)
Ed. Note: In the past decade, the police department in Richmond, Calif. has undergone a dramatic transformation. Spearheaded by an openly-gay and white chief in charge of policing this largely African American and Latino city, the changes are now bearing fruit, with crime down and trust between officers and the residents they are meant to protect on the rise. As departments nationwide look for ways to improve community ties in the wake of police killings in Ferguson and New York, Richmond stands as a promising template.
RICHMOND, Calif. – Richmond’s police department is undergoing something of a renaissance these days, thanks in part to decades of reform that have moved the department from its longstanding enforcement-driven model to one that focuses more on building trust with the public.
That transformation was thrust into the spotlight in December when an image of Chris Magnus, Richmond’s white, openly gay police chief, went viral, stirring a national response. In the image, Magnus is seen holding a “#BlackLivesMatter” sign while in full uniform at a demonstration against police brutality. The demonstration followed the acquittal of a white police officer in the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Magnus’ nine-year tenure is marked with like gestures: an extended hand to residents, viewed as enlightened by some and controversial by others.
“But the biggest challenge,” Magnus says, “has been changing the perception black community members [have toward police], those who had experienced a legacy of mistrust.”
That fraught legacy goes back decades, to the rough and tumble 1980s when “the cowboys” – a notorious, roving squad of undercover narcotics agents – were regularly accused of brutality, and more recently to the early part of the 1990s, when the city saw record homicides.
More than two decades, and a handful of police chiefs later, crime still racked Richmond when Magnus came on board. In 2005, a year before Magnus took over, there were 40 homicides.
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