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Police Chief Alfred Durham responds: ‘We are the community and the community is us’

8/5/2016, 7:14 a.m.
As I meet with members of the community, our conversations often turn to the relationship between the police and the ...

As I meet with members of the community, our conversations often turn to the relationship between the police and the community in light of the recent high-profile, police-involved shootings that have occurred in other states.

It is an understandably emotional topic of conversation that arises from our mutual desire to ensure these types of incidents do not undermine the great strides we have made here in Richmond.

Rather than allow it to fuel the tension, distrust and animosity between the police and the community seen in other cities, we demonstrate civility and compassion even as we engage in passionate protest or intense disagreement.

I have been asked for my thoughts and comments on a number of issues related to how we can ensure a similar incident does not happen here in Richmond. While it is impossible to make such a guarantee, rest assured that we are working tirelessly with the community to help prevent that type of tragedy from occurring in Richmond.

I would like to take a moment to address some questions posed by the Richmond Free Press.

Commentary

Is tougher screening needed to weed out potential or current officers who may be prone to such violence?

In Richmond, we have established high standards for police officer candidates. We conduct an exhaustive process by which the candidates are reviewed and assessed, including comprehensive medical and psychological assessments. Investigators also comb through the backgrounds of all candidates to ensure that we are able to determine if she or he possesses the tools, demeanor and skills necessary to be a high quality police officer. We do not cut corners or compromise our high standards. It is a fair, but tough process that is designed to weed out any insufficient candidates.

With regard to current officers, continued training, supervisory review and an early intervention system are critical to identifying officers who may not be meeting the expectations of the department and community.

In the end, there is no assessment or screening tool that will be 100 percent accurate in predicting whether an officer will be prone to misconduct or behavioral issues, which is why we go to such great lengths to find the best, most qualified candidates and then provide them with the best training in the industry.

Is there a “watch list” of officers or potential candidates that is kept by the department and/or circulated with other police agencies? If not, should there be one?

I have not heard of such a list. Practically speaking, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to maintain such a list in an accurate and meaningful way. There would also likely be legal objections to keeping such a list.

That said, the perceived need for a “watch list” would not exist if all departments maintain high standards of hire and then conduct the necessary due diligence on all candidates. If departments exhaustively and objectively review candidates, they would be able to identify those individuals who have had prior issues, previously demonstrated they are unfit to be a police officer or possess other red flags or concerns in their background.