Mayor Stoney, city officials mulling options to reduce crime in public housing

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 4/21/2017, 6:10 a.m.
The Mosby Court public housing community — particularly the area around Redd and Accommodation streets — could be considered the ...
Mayor Stoney Regina H. Boone/Richmond Free Press

The Mosby Court public housing community — particularly the area around Redd and Accommodation streets — could be considered the epicenter of Richmond’s spike in homicides.

Of the 13 people slain in Richmond since February, six of the deaths occurred in that section of Mosby Court or in apartments adjacent to the public housing community.

Some residents and community advocates are calling it a crisis that warrants a strong response from City Hall, such as having police block the streets to create a kind of gated entry into the community.

“That would send a strong message that killings will not be tolerated,” said Art Burton, founder and director of the nonprofit Kinfolk Community that works to improve life in Mosby. “We’re talking about a 30-year culture of drugs and violence. And this would be very disruptive to business as usual.”

However, Mayor Levar M. Stoney does not support such an extreme measure.

“I don’t believe in locking down a community,” he said last week during an interview at the Richmond Free Press. “If we treat people that way, we’ll get a reciprocal response.”

Short of that, he said, “We’re going to use every tool in the toolbox to keep neighborhoods safe.”

He said steps are in the works regarding Mosby and other areas where violence has become more of a problem.

For example, he said Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham is considering creating a police unit that would focus solely on public housing communities.

The mayor also said that he, Chief Durham and officials at Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which manages the city’s six major public housing communities, was discussing other possible steps. There is the possibility of issuing photo IDs to public housing residents to show they belong there and requiring them to register and place decals in their vehicles so police can easily determine which cars belong to residents, he said.

Mayor Stoney said it’s commonplace for private apartment complexes to require renters to register their vehicles and have an identification decal.

However, he would not say whether such proposals would go forward.

“We’re exploring our options,” he said.

He said he would want “feedback from residents” before he would consider offering a proposal to City Council.

“I want to have a city government that listens to people and to make sure we have crossed our Ts and dotted our Is first,” he said. “I do not want a city government that does not listen to people. I want to govern through collaboration and cooperation.”

James Lewis, a 61-year-old Mosby Court resident, said he would object to having a special photo ID.

“What’s needed is a way to keep people out who don’t belong here,” Mr. Lewis said. “I don’t think our community should be singled out for special measures. It would be better to temporarily block the streets.”

Mayor Stoney said other ways of improving public safety would come with increased investment in technology.

He cited his budget proposal to spend more than $235,000 to place sonar equipment called ShotSpotter in various parts of the city to more quickly identify the location of gunshots and enable police to get to the scene more rapidly.