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Facial hair, more time off part of fix for low morale among Richmond police

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Richmond police Chief Allwyn Brown updated the City Council Tuesday on his staff’s progress toward meeting goals laid out by consultants who completed a review of the department’s executive leadership in 2018 and raised questions about morale and working relationships within the agency.

Boston-based MBD Innovations found that an acrimonious relationship existed between departmental management and the Richmond Police Officers Association union, and that a similar rift existed between the office of the city manager and the office of the chief.

The report also found that rank-and-file officers suffered from low morale and the department on the whole lacked a clearly articulated vision for the future.

Brown, appearing alongside a half-dozen members of his senior staff, said:

“All of us are former members of the RPOA, so we’re not totally disconnected from the realities of serving in those ranks. … On a continuing basis we are seeking broad participation and feedback. We want to improve working relationships.”

That effort has involved giving officers an additional day off every other week and modifying departmental policy to allow facial hair, as well as additional training for the rank-and-file personnel and management including an upcoming appearance from a noted expert on how to survive the emotional trauma officers frequently encounter on the job.

They’ve also modified uniform requirements to allow officers to carry their equipment and personal defense weapons on a vest, which Brown said has been known to reduce stress on the lower back and reduce the frequency of lower back injuries.

Brown said:

“Overall, I believe we are headed in the right direction.”

But according to Benjamin Therriault, president of the Richmond Police Officers Association, the city and department leadership have yet to make good on the terms of their bargaining unit’s contract, which was ratified in 2017.

During a brief interview outside council chambers, Therriault said that officers were promised cost-of-living adjustments tied to revenue goals from utility and property taxes, but those pay increases have not been implemented despite the goals in question being met.

Therriault said:

“That has not happened. … It’s been almost two years, we’ve made numerous requests through our attorneys.”

Rank-and-file officers have been forgoing pay, but they have not been given access to the financial data associated with those sacrifices as promised, according to Therriault:

“It’s in our contract. Since January 2017 we’ve been living up to our part.”

The Richmond Police Department is also facing difficulties maintaining adequate staff levels, as officers leave the department faster than replacements are hired, but Brown said the department is looking to hire a recruiting firm to help address that problem.

After Brown addressed the Council, Councilman Nat Bates responded — citing his background as a probation officer — saying that there’s always room for improvement, and that’s where the Council’s efforts ought to be focused:

“I think our police officers do an outstanding job. There is great appreciation for our police officers, we want them there. … When we call, they respond.”

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