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‘I’m done’: Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham announces his last day on the force will be Dec. 31

Jeremy Lazarus | 11/15/2018, 6 a.m.
“I’m done. I don’t have another position waiting.” So said Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham after publicly announcing Tuesday he ...
Chief Durham waves to the crowd as he takes part in Richmond’s 2015 Christmas Parade. In typical fashion, he is walking, rather than riding, along the two-mile route. Photo by Sandra Sellars Richmond Free Press

In this photo, Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham contemplates his new post on Feb. 18, 2015, shortly after taking over leadership of the city Police Department.

Richmond Free Press

In this photo, Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham contemplates his new post on Feb. 18, 2015, shortly after taking over leadership of the city Police Department.

“I’m done. I don’t have another position waiting.”

So said Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham after publicly announcing Tuesday he will retire effective Sunday, Dec. 31.

His decision will cost the city a chief who seemed to work day and night and stumped through Richmond neighborhoods like a political candidate in his quest to reduce crime.

During his tenure, Chief Durham equipped officers with body cameras and expanded training in diversity and de-escalating tense encounters. He also was a tough taskmaster who demanded officers meet high standards.

He created a special unit to patrol public housing communities and worked with outside partners, from neighboring police departments and the State Police to the Attorney General’s Office. He also ensured officers and detectives worked closely with city prosecutors.

He was the first to defend Richmond officers facing what he considered unwarranted public criticism. But he also quietly fired more that 25 officers that internal investigations showed were abusive or who had committed serious infractions.

Chief Durham will leave behind a department that remains short-handed, but has won national recognition for solving homicides, dealing with protests and securing the public’s trust. Unlike Baltimore, St. Louis, Cleveland and Chicago, Richmond has not faced widespread accusations of police abuse during his tenure or sustained public uproar over police shootings.

As part of his efforts to go beyond policing, Chief Durham expanded department efforts into community programs and embraced private efforts, such as the basketball program run by the RVA League for Safer Streets.

“We’re public servants,” he once said in spelling out the philosophy he sought to live by and worked to get his officers to embrace. “I tell my folks — and I am very adamant about this — if you don’t have a servant’s heart, maybe you’re in the wrong business. We have to care about people.”

Still, Chief Durham is looking forward to spending more time with his family and leaving behind the stress of the job.

Known for speaking directly and responding as honestly as he could, he told those who asked that he usually got little sleep. His rest was often interrupted by calls or by a flood of fresh ideas. One constant stress was the challenge of manpower.

Just a few days before Tuesday’s announcement, Chief Durham was worried about the department’s continuing struggles to reach its authorized strength and the increasing difficulties that his successor could face.

In comments to a South Side audience last week, he said the department is authorized for 754 officers, but that week could deploy only 658 sworn personnel, including detectives and other specialists, to handle the daily flood of calls for service.

Each week, the department receives between 4,000 and 6,000 calls.

He said the department has fewer officers in part because some on the rolls are recruits in training; others are recovering from injury, are away serving in the military, are facing discipline or are on other kinds of leave.

But the main reason for the diminished strength, he said, involves the departure of officers for better-paying opportunities.