As dozens in government housing arrested for potential violence, concerns raised about racial profiling

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Posted at 9:48 AM, Aug 03, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-03 09:48:01-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Richmond Police Department (RPD) said its predictive policing initiative "Operation Red Ball" is proving to reduce violent crime — despite the fact that overall major crimes are up by 29% in the city compared to this time last year. Homicides are down 19%.

Since the operation's launch in November 2021, RPD spokesperson Tracy Walker said officers have arrested 177 people deemed to be a threat to public safety by utilizing crime data and investigative tools.

"RPD works in collaboration with federal partners including ATF, DEA, and FBI, throughout the investigative process to gather information on violent offenders based on criminal evidence in the commission of major crimes, those who have been victims of violent crime, or involved with related criminal activity," Walker said.

Of those arrested, a majority of them were connected to government housing neighborhoods, while 43% were not.

"14% are connected to Hillside, 13% Mosby, 9% Uptown, and 5% Belt Atlantic," Walker said.

Matt Callahan with the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia said these types of programs generally raise red flags about racial profiling and should be thoroughly vetted for possible bias.

“Studies have shown that police are more likely to interact with members of poor communities or communities of color, and the frequency of those interactions often is what drives the criminal histories that are put into these algorithms or these other predictive policing programs," Callahan said.

Callahan added predictive policing should be used "sparingly."

"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," he said.

RPD has not yet responded to CBS 6's questions about what kind of charges those arrested face or if they all have criminal backgrounds.

“Until we get the kind of transparency from the police about what this program involves, it's hard to say whether it's legal or not," Callahan said.

While RPD declined an interview request, Walker said RPD Chief Gerald Smith is expected to share more details about the program during a press conference Thursday. Walker also shared a quote from RPD Major Ronnie Armstead, who has been involved in leading the operation.

“If this operation can prevent one act of violence or prevent one more person from being shot, it is a success”, said Armstead.

The City of Richmond's safety coordinator, Samuel Brown Senior Sr., said he understands "valid" concerns about racial profiling, but he has not seen evidence that supports that.

"They are tracking data that is connected to where the crime has been historically in those communities, and so there really isn't a connection beyond the data that supports that," Brown said.