Aug 9, 2022 - News

Richmond police defend predictive policing program

Illustration of a pair of blinking eyes with police badges for irises.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Richmond police say their foray into predictive policing — dubbed Operation Red Ball — has led to 179 arrests and the seizure of 276 guns.

What's happening: The operation targets "people who have shot other people, people who have been shot or shot at and people who will shoot other people," Maj. Ronnie Armstead told leaders of Richmond's public housing authority last month, according a meeting recording obtained by Axios.

  • The remarks were first reported by VPM News.

Why it matters: The project has raised eyebrows among civil rights groups, who say predictive policing programs often lead to racial profiling.

  • Meanwhile, the police department argues the project has made neighborhoods safer by targeting people most likely to commit crimes.

The latest: Chief Gerald Smith touted the program during a crime briefing Monday.

  • He said that, since the operation began in November, it has resulted in 188 felony charges and 141 misdemeanors.
  • The vast majority of the cases involved weapons or drug offenses.

How it works: Smith said the department compiled a list of more than 100 people using intel from confidential informants, community members, social media and current investigations.

  • He said the department then targets those people for arrest, either through surveillance or other tactics he declined to detail when asked at Monday's crime briefing.

What they're saying: Smith brushed off concerns that the program could lead to racial profiling.

  • "It's not about race," he said Monday. "We address criminal behavior."

The other side: "Police should be pursuing leads on an individualized basis and pursuing crime throughout the community, rather than targeting specific communities that may not have the political power to push back on the police response or the over-policing," Matt Callahan, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Virginia, told WTVR.


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