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Leadership shakeup at Richmond Police: High-level officers resign months after former chief

By Olivia Jaquith,

2023-03-14

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — More than four months after former Chief of Police Gerald Smith submitted his resignation , two more high-level officers are also leaving the Richmond Police Department (RPD) .

Sources told 8News that, on Friday , Acting Chief Rick Edwards , who remains under control of the department in the absence of a more permanent hire for the role, accepted the resignations of Chief of Staff Spencer Cochran and Deputy Chief John Hayes. Cochran was hired from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in North Carolina, from which Smith had also been hired . Hayes previously served with the Seattle Police Department.

Representatives with local police union Richmond Coalition of Police (RCOP) told 8News on Tuesday that officers were not given a reason for the high-level leaders’ resignations.

“It’s always sad when an employee leaves our organization. Not knowing the details of the resignation, both gentlemen were At Will employees of the Chief of Police,” RCOP Vice President Carl Scott said. “RCOP thanks them for their service to our department and wishes them well with future endeavors.”

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Meanwhile, the department has continued to operate without a more permanent replacement for former Chief Smith. Then-Acting Major Edwards was promoted to Acting Chief at the end of October, following the announcement of Smith’s departure .

“For many, the tag ‘interim’ doesn’t play in their day-to-day duties,” Scott said. “We are appreciative of our dialogue and meetings with Chief [Edwards] — truly an open-door policy.”

Petula Burks with the City of Richmond’s Office of Strategic Communications and Civic Engagement told 8News Tuesday that the city is “in final contract negotiations with a selection firm. Once the contract is finalized, the position will be posted.” However, Burks did not answer questions about how much that would cost the city.

Dana Schrad with the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police (VACP) said that the organization is currently assisting with several police chief searches for law enforcement agencies throughout the Commonwealth.

“We don’t see that many people applying for police chief jobs,” she said. “But we also see a lot of people just leaving the profession in general, and so, in doing so, it just means that the pool of applicants, particularly for command positions, is much smaller now.”

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Schrad cited the pandemic, retirement of baby boomers, burnout, and social and police reforms that have challenged and changed the profession.

“When that happens, and you lose people down the ranks that you could promote into higher command level positions, you don’t really have the depth of experience yet to really promote them up. That’s why you’re starting to see some agencies putting out advertisements to hire from external sources for deputy chiefs or majors or even captains,” Schrad said. “We cannot lower the bar on our expectations of police officers, and we don’t have a wealth of really good, qualified professional applicants in policing in Virginia.”

Schrad added that the involvement of local government, as well as the timeline for hiring a new Chief of Police or other upper-level officers, varies from locality to locality.

“It’s a very important search process because the police chief is probably the most visible member of a local government, and that position is so important to communicating directly with the residents of that community, making sure that that the services that that police department provides are in line with community expectations,” she said. “That is why you hire a firm to assist. You also want to hire a firm, often, because you want an independent review of candidates.”

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