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Richmond's 'Black Lives Matter' Police Chief Is Headed to...Tucson?

After turning an entire police culture around, police chief Chris Magnus makes an unceremonious exit.


Update, November 18: Last night the Tucson City Council unanimously appointed Chris Magnus the city's new police chief.

Chris Magnus, the Richmond police chief who turned around a dysfunctional department and brought about a drastic reduction in crime, is on his way to becoming the new police chief in Tucson, Arizona. It’s a big loss for Richmond, where homicides fell from 47 in 2009 to 11 last year under Magnus’s community policing approach. He also famously attracted national attention as the “#BlackLivesMatter cop” after holding a sign bearing the slogan at a Richmond protest. It’s not official yet; tonight Tucson’s city council will vote on Magnus’s hiring. But the council seems all but guaranteed to shoo him in.

Why Tucson? Magnus hasn’t returned our call, but city manager Bill Lindsay thinks the chief is perhaps after a new challenge. “What he’s told me is it’s about his professional growth as a police chief and an opportunity with new challenges,” says Lindsay. He adds, “I think Tucson is getting a great police chief and we are losing a great police chief.”

Tucson’s citizens’ commission, which was involved in the hiring, was taken with Magnus’s community policing approach, says Tucson communications coordinator Lane Mandle. "We have significant poverty here in Tucson,” she adds. “The citizens’ commission felt Magnus’s experience could mesh well with our challeges here."

As Joe Eskenazi explained in his June report on Richmond’s transformation, community policing shuns us-versus-them tactics like stop-and-frisk. Instead, the idea is to put cops on specific beats so they can form relationships with residents, an approach Eskenazi likened to stop-and-give-out-your-cell-number. It’s working. As Eskenazi reported, almost every statistically recordable crime has fallen: Over the past decade, violent crime has declined 23 percent and overall crime has dropped 37 percent. Yet this year the homicide rate has begun to tick back up: There were 11 homicides in the first half of 2015 alone, the same number of people killed in all of 2014. 

The big question is, can Richmond keep up its still generally positive trend without its mustachioed leader? City manager Lindsay says that’s the goal. “The good news is that he would be leaving a command staff that I consider to be very capable, and I’ll talk with him about approaches to find his successor,” he says. “I think there will be some very strong candidates coming out of the Richmond Police Department who share his philosophy about community policing, and I think we can continue to improve on it.”

Though Magnus has the Tucson citizens commission in the bag, the Tucson Police Officer Association favored another candidate, in part because of the Black Lives Matter placard. If Magnus is looking for his next career challenge, it does look like he’s found one. 


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