Citing credible threats to Mayor Levar Stoney, Richmond police have assigned him a security detail, reviving a controversial practice from the two previous mayoral administrations that Stoney ended when he took office.
Police Chief Gerald Smith created the detail because of "serious, credible and ongoing threats to Mayor Stoney," police spokesman Gene Lepley wrote in an email.
"The mayor has spent the last three and a half years traveling to hundreds, if not thousands, of public and private events without police protection. Unfortunately, recent events have made it clear that we are now in different times," Stoney spokesman Jim Nolan wrote in an email.
"The mayor will continue the unprecedented community outreach and personal engagement with residents that has defined his term, but for obvious reasons, we cannot discuss details of his security."
The Executive Protection Unit was a perennial budget-season punching bag, particularly toward the end of former Mayor Dwight C. Jones' eight years in office. The security detail's annual costs varied from $300,000 in 2013 to more than $500,000 in 2015, when the city's then-police chief cut off overtime payments.
That move resulted in a lawsuit. The city settled the suit in 2018, agreeing to pay $51,000 in back wages and legal fees to the four police officers assigned to Jones' detail.
In 2016, the final year of Jones' term, the City Council voted to limit the detail — it began during former Gov. Doug Wilder's term as mayor and had up to 11 officers — to a single officer who would accompany Jones only while he was on official city business. Upon taking office, Stoney eliminated the detail entirely after criticizing it during the campaign.
Citing security reasons, neither RPD nor the mayor's office would reveal further details of Stoney's detail, including how many officers were assigned, how long it will be in place, or what it will cost taxpayers.
"It is now in effect and will remain in place for the time being," Lepley said. "The threats are being investigated."
In late June, Stoney's spokesman said Richmond police had received "credible threats" against the mayor since he vowed earlier in the month to remove Confederate statues from Monument Avenue. Police recommended then that Stoney receive additional security in certain situations.
On June 16, protesters showed up at Stoney’s downtown apartment building, and police said 20 people briefly entered the lobby before being removed by security. A crowd of 200 or more protesters gathered outside, shouting for Stoney to come out.
Several City Council members reached Friday said they had not been briefed about Stoney's security detail. They all voiced concerns for the threats that precipitated it and said they hope the arrangement will not be needed for long.
Councilman Chris Hilbert, the 3rd District representative, said he had "no objection" as long as there was an ongoing threat.
"Given the current environment, I'm not surprised that there has been a credible threat," he said. "This is a volatile time."
Hilbert said he was on the council under Jones' and Wilder's tenures and believed the "day-to-day" security detail was "a waste of taxpayer dollars."
Councilwoman Kristen Larson, who represents the 4th District, said her concern is about what happens once the threat to Stoney has subsided.
"It's absolutely warranted now," Larson said. "The question for me is the long term."
Councilman Michael Jones, the 9th District representative, said he agreed with his colleagues and "hopes Stoney will keep to his word, his campaign promise," and that once the threat is gone, the detail will be disbanded.
All three of the council members said they would like a report on how much is spent on the security unit.
"I lament the fact that people would threaten public officials. It's alarming," said Jones, who previously has reported a threat to police, as have Hilbert and Larson.
Councilwoman Kimberly Gray, whose 2nd District has been where much of the ongoing civil unrest has been centered, did not respond to a request for comment. But Gray criticized the police response when she estimated 200 protesters demonstrated outside of her Jackson Ward home the night of July 15.
Police said they closely monitored the group, which dispersed after 15 minutes.
Demonstrators also held a "sit-in" outside the home of Commonwealth's Attorney Colette McEachin's home on June 25, when 15 people were arrested by Richmond police. Eleven were charged with picketing, one with obstructing justice, two with assaulting a law enforcement officer, and one with trespassing.
No other city officials, including Gray and McEachin, have been assigned security by Richmond police.