Driving while Black

Judge asked to revisit ruling regarding RPD’s racial profiling

George Copeland Jr. | 2/22/2024, 6 p.m.
A recent court ruling declaring that the Richmond Police Department stops African-American drivers far more often than other demographics is ...

A recent court ruling declaring that the Richmond Police Department stops African-American drivers far more often than other demographics is being questioned by federal prosecutors.

Last Friday, U.S. Attorney Jessica D. Aber asked Senior U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. to rethink a ruling last week that led to the dismissal of charges against Keith Rodney Moore for possession of a firearm found during a traffic stop in December 2020.

Judge Gibney was convinced to rule in Mr. Moore’s favor in the case due to the defense’s argument that RPD traffic stop data showed officers stop Black people with far greater frequency than other drivers.

Black people accounted for 77% of RPD’s traffic stops between July and December 2020.

“This data was essential to this case,” Mr. Gibney wrote in his ruling opinion. “It shows a disgraceful disparity in enforcement of traffic laws, with Black drivers getting the short end of the stick.”

In her motion, Ms. Aber argues that Judge Gibney’s decision, while well-intentioned, doesn’t take into account the circumstances surrounding Mr. Moore’s arrest and the arguments put forth by the prosecution.

She also said it risks undermining a necessary component of RPD’s efforts to address violent crime in Richmond, and would “unravel the progress RPD has made” in decreasing criminal activity in the city.

“While this Court’s decision to dismiss the indictment against a felon with an illegal gun was undoubtedly motivated by good intentions, the United States respectfully requests that it reconsider its finding,” Ms. Aber wrote.

RPD leadership struck a similar chord days earlier in response to the ruling. In a statement, RPD Chief Rick Edwards rebuffed the ruling’s opinion outright, saying that “the Richmond Police Department does not stop motorists based on race.”

Both Chief Edwards and Ms. Aber pushed against Judge Gibney’s assessment of RPD’s methodology for patrolling and traffic stops. They said the areas where traffic stops occur the most frequently aren’t racially motivated, but “hotspots” of disproportionately high criminal activity determined through information gathering and crime reports.

RPD, according to Ms. Aber and Chief Edwards, uses that information to determine the areas where officers and the department should focus their time, attention and resources the most.

Those areas of focus, the First, Second and Fourth Precincts, have a high percentage or a majority of Black residents, a factor Chief Edwards said doesn’t reflect on or affect how RPD handles law enforcement in those areas.

“We use data that is regularly analyzed to determine where best to allocate resources in an effort to decrease injury and loss of life,” Chief Edwards said. “I have a deep and long-lasting commitment to protecting the citizens of Richmond and doing so in a manner that is professional, fair, and impartial.”

Judge Gibney had not yet responded to the motion by the Free Press print deadline.