Guns250 and LAP—2 things that save lives

From finding illegal gun owners to identifying possible domestic violence fatalities before they happen, the Richmond Police Department is stepping up efforts.

Photo by: Several seconds

The Richmond Police Department is on a quest to stop the upswing in often fatal violence. I spoke to Police Chief Alfred Durham yesterday about a couple of new initiatives you should know something about.


In partnership with Metro Richmond Crime Stoppers, the RPD rolled out Gun250 at the start of March. The premise is simple: You give the RPD an anonymous tip about someone who’s in illegal possession of a firearm, and they’ll give you money–sometimes as much as $250.

The keys are anonymity and effectiveness. Here’s how it works:

  • Any person in any community can text “Tip” to x274635 (Chief Durham knew this off the top of his head, and you can too! It’s just “CRIMES”). Type in GUNS250 and then any information you have (the Chief’s example: “A man named Al standing at one corner of Grace Street has a gun in his waistband.”)
  • Your message will go to both the coordinator for the program AND Emergency Communications, which alerts the precinct in the area, so they can send somebody out immediately.
  • You’ll be given an alphanumeric identifier, which is how the system will recognize you (instead of your name). “We don’t know if you’re male, female, black, white, Asian, nothing!” says Chief Durham. “The anonymity is the beauty of this program.”
  • Then, you’ll be paid money.

“It’s going to take time [to start gaining ground],” says the Chief, who counts a total of 18 tips so far. But all 18 have come in during the last two weeks, which speaks to momentum. “[It’ll gain more momentum] when the first payout is made in some of our more challenging communities.”

They’re also passing out cards, flyers, whatever they can. “In certain communities we’ve done a great job of building relationships, but [this surge in violence] is just troubling for me as a chief and for us as a department. And the thing is that it’s a myriad of motives–everything from argument to robbery to retaliation, and we just can’t get our hands around a certain part of it.”

And even survivors of shootings aren’t often the key to solving crimes–many of them claim they don’t know who did it. “But we get different information from the communities. If folks aren’t talking to us, especially those survivors or victims of aggravated assault with firearms, it makes it a lot more difficult.”

Lethality Assessment Program (LAP)

Of the 18-19 homicides this year within City limits1, seven of those have been domestic violence-related, says Chief Durham. The Violent Crimes area of the RPD went to talk to the YWCA about what’s starting to feel like an epidemic, wondering how they could get help to people before they’re victims of an assault.

“First of all, we can’t always detect it. A lot of family members and friends know about women and men who are in these volatile relationships,” says the Chief. “All they want to do is offer advice. They don’t want to reach out to the police, the YWCA, or even clergy sometimes to help bring these unhealthy relationships to the forefront.”

Now, individual police officers (about 90% have been trained to do so at this point, says Chief Durham) ask a series of questions to anyone who they suspect might be in an abusive or potentially abusive relationship. The LAP protocol, which was developed by the Maryland Network for Domestic Violence, focuses on trying to identify potential lethality before it happens–here’s a good article about Maryland’s implementation, complete with the actual questions. The good folks from Maryland came Southward to train the YWCA and the RPD–it’s an evidence-based system for identifying lethality, and it works.

The questions are similar to the ones asked when the hotline is called, but the idea is that many people in dangerous situations don’t even know the hotline exists. Or if they do know, it doesn’t occur to them that they’re the ones who need to be using it.

If enough of the LAP questions are answered in a way that makes the police officer’s red flags go up, they make sure the potential victim has YWCA’s hotline information. In the first two weeks of the program, which began March 1st, the YWCA had received almost 30 calls, according to Emily Barker, their Director of Community Outreach and Public Education. “It’s up to the victim,” she explains. “If they decide not to call or even if they do call and they decide they don’t want any of our services, that’s totally their call. And if they don’t want to call at that time, they still have the information.”

Those services include emergency shelter, counseling (both individual and group), case management services, a housing specialist, and employment navigation.

As of today, 16 of the 62 individuals screened by police are currently receiving YWCA services, which Chief Durham counts as 16 lives that were saved–not to mention the potential that those who have not called (or maybe called and just decided not to receive services) may use that information at a later date.

“There’s this fear factor,” says Chief Durham, who was really affected by 26-year-old Katasha Johnson’s homicide last year. Her body was found in a bag. He spoke to her cousin, who said that Katasha had met a man, and it was a volatile situation, but she just didn’t want to leave him. As the Chief put it, “In many of these relationships when a man abuses a woman and he hits her, they think that’s love.”

The YWCA of Richmond’s completely confidential hotline is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call 804.612.6126 if you or anyone you know are raising your own red flags.

  1. Here’s our running list. The police report 19 homicides, because they’re counting one that was committed in 2015 but the victim died in 2016. We’re still keeping that as 2016, mostly because the RPD has gone back and forth on which year they’ll put that into, and we’re not sure where they’ll land officially–and partly because it just makes logical sense. 
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Susan Howson

Susan Howson is managing editor for this very website. She writes THE BEST bios.

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