Meet Richmond’s new Police Chief, and LGBTQ Ally, Alfred Durham
The last two years have been a kind of sea change for interactions between Richmond Police and the local LGBTQ community – not to say issues had occurred prior, but the thought of an open dialog between the two groups was thought to be impossible.
Then Chief Tarasovic entered the picture and before long Virginia Pride 2013 played host to the first standing RPD Chief making a speech and holding a recruitment booth. Pride 2014 returned with even more of a police presence with Chesterfield and Henrico also holding recruitment booths.
Much of Central VA’s LGBTQ community has been thrilled with this support, and the lengths at which Richmond PD took steps to get involved – Major Odetta Johnson was appointed LGBT Liaison, Tarasovic attended 2013 and 2014′s Transgender Day of Remembrance events and World AIDS day, etc..
But with Tarasovic’s retirement, some weren’t sure what that meant for the future of the two communities working together.
Turns out Tarasovic’s replacement (if such a man can be replaced) is on a path to carry the LGBTQ-friendly torch.
Meet Chief Alfred Durham (top image). With almost 30 years in police work, a welcoming attitude, and a firm hand shake, he’s promised to continue to support Richmond’s sexual minorities as he leads the City’s Police department.
“The City of Richmond is diverse,” said Durham in a phone interview last week. “I have a responsibility to ensure my police department serves everyone in the community – young, old, poor, rich, LGBTs, the list goes on – everyone is important to me and everyone should be important to my officers… these are the people we’re here to serve.”
He’s personable to say the least, laughing throughout our conversation and taking steps to reassure his commitment along the way.
He’s promised to keep Major Johnson on as the cities LGBT Liaison, and he’s already taken steps to reach out to parts of the community.
Within 48 hours of being sworn in as Chief, he was in the basement of St. Marks Episcopal church attending a meeting of Richmond Prime Timers, a local support and social group for older gay men.
“He was extremely happy with the meeting and told me a lot of good questions were asked,” said Jim Rhodes, Vice President of Richmond Prime Timers. Rhodes spoke to me a few weeks after their meeting with Durham.
“He was very receptive to the gay community, and I thought that was really good.”
Rhodes remembers a time when the idea of a police chief attending a group for gay men was unimaginable – he was part of a generation who would have seen the inside of a prison cell if they were caught with who they loved.
“Gays, and older gays especially, are more susceptible to have things happen to them, and some are very afraid to call the police,” said Rhodes. He spoke to some fellow Prime Timers who were actually still uncomfortable having the chief of police attending their meeting.
But once the meeting was under way, with reps from Henrico, Chesterfield, and of course RPD in the room, the meeting, and pot luck dinner, went off without a hitch.
“They were so cool,” said Rhodes. “Some of the officers even brought their own covered dishes to the dinner. It surprised us to no end.”
Rhodes said after the meeting and dinner was over, the officers and the chief stayed and continued to answer questions and have conversations.
“In Richmond, I could never imagine this happening,” he said.
“Here it is, a Sunday afternoon,” said Durham weeks after the Prime Timers event. “I could be home with my family and friends, but I’m here cause its important to me…. I had a wonderful time, and I’ll tell you, they can cook.”
Back to my phone call with Durham, he’s answering questions before I even ask. He was with DC police from 1987-2002, then he had a brief stint with Richmond Police from 05-07. He returned to DC from 07-14 when he retired and retuned to RVA before took over earlier this month.
DC Metro Police have the ‘flag ship’ LGBT Liaison program, GLLU (Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit) often cited as one of the first, which started in 2000.
Durham said he wasn’t part of the program, he was a Sergeant with the harbor master at the time, but he was aware of it going on.
Despite not being directly involved in GLLU, he was quite aware of Pride events held in the Nation’s Capital – he said he worked 10 of them.
“What started off as a small celebration up in Dupont Circle is now a WILD celebration,” he said with a laugh. “GLLU has done so much good work.”
But Richmond is certainly no Washington D.C. – in fact, a recent poll put Richmond towards the bottom of ‘Metro areas with the largest openly LGBTQ populations.’ And a few years back, GayRVA asked our audience if they felt safe holding hands with their same-sex significant other in public – 60% said they didn’t.
“Shame on you,” said Durham when he heard about a majority of LGBTQ people feeling unsafe to show simple affection in public. “You have to be yourself – even in law enforcement, you have to do what makes you happy. We can’t be concerned about what pother people think. Self expression is very important.”
“You have my full support,” he said. “If someone calls from the LGBT community, anything, they will get the professional service they deserve.”
But my interview with Durham wasn’t perfect. I asked him about how his department plans to handle hate crime reporting and he was unsure of the policy.
“I don’t see why, if there’s some reporting requirement, by law, by federal law, then I have to report it,” he said “I don’t have a problem with it, but I need to know what the past history of the department has been.”
Hate crimes are crimes “motivated in whole or in part by a bias against the victim’s perceived race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity/national origin, or disability,” and often allow for federal involvement in investigations and heavier charges and sentences.
Reporting of hate crimes is voluntary under federal law. Richmond PD has been reporting hate crimes since at least 1996 which is as far back as FBI digital records show.
Requests for Durham to clarify his stance on hate crime reporting had not been returned by press time, but will be updated when it becomes available.
Update 4/1/15: A message was sent from RPD’s Comms officer Gene Lepley clarifying Chief Durham’s stance on reporting hate crimes in the city:
It is the policy of the Richmond Police Department to report all hate crimes to the Virginia State Police. In addition, the Department will voluntarily report any hate crimes directly to the F.B.I.
- Chief Alfred Durham
Beyond this discrepancy, Durham’s enthusiasm in our conversation, and his recent presence at an event like Prime Timers, suggests we have a new ally in Richmond’s highest police rank.
“I am the police chief, I own this department now, I’m accountable to you,” said Durham. “I’m the type of Chief who puts his cell phone number on his business card. because the citizens pay for my cell phone. That’s how I want folks to reach out to their Police Chief. I don’t think it gets any better than that.”
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