RICHMOND — Just one day after a vote of no confidence from the city’s police union, Richmond’s interim city manager announced Friday that police Chief Allwyn Brown was “out of the office” and that an assistant chief was taking over in his stead.
Assistant Chief Bisa French — the city’s youngest captain and its first African-American woman to achieve the rank — will serve as acting police chief, Interim City Manager Steve Falk said in an email to officers obtained by this news organization. She will be the first woman in the city’s history to step into the role of police chief.
The email didn’t detail whether Brown had resigned or was placed on administrative leave, saying only, “Chief Allwyn Brown is currently out of the office.” Attempts to reach Falk Saturday morning were unsuccessful, and Brown did not return a request for comment Saturday.
“I appreciate your ongoing commitment to the community we serve,” Falk said in the email to officers. “Thank you in advance for providing Acting Chief French with your full support and cooperation.”
French said Saturday her post would be temporary, “for the foreseeable future,” and she wasn’t sure if Brown would be coming back.
“I just want to provide some stability for the department and make sure we continue with the mission of providing the great professional services we have been providing,” she said. “It’s a point of transition that I want to get our department through.”
Brown’s leave comes on the heels of the union’s 117-19 vote of no confidence, which was publicly announced Wednesday. It was the latest sign of turmoil for the department, coming nearly a year after the release of a scathing third-party report that sharply criticized the police department’s management, widespread low morale and poor communication from the top.
In a statement Saturday, Richmond Police Officer Association President Benjamin Therriault said the union would be working “actively and diligently” with French and the command staff moving forward.
“We will do everything in our power to advocate for our members and the Richmond community to positively affect this organization,” he said.
French joined the Richmond Police Department in 1998 and rose rapidly through the ranks, serving as a community police officer in the city’s crime-plagued Iron Triangle neighborhood, on its bike patrol and as a field training officer before being promoted to the rank of sergeant. She served as former Police Chief Chris Magnus’ chief of staff and the point-person for expanding the city’s Family Justice Center, a one-stop-shop of resources for domestic violence survivors. French became a captain overseeing the city’s Iron Triangle neighborhood in 2013.
As chief, Magnus developed a national reputation for proactive, community-oriented policing policies and oversaw a significant drop in homicides in the city, which fell from 42 in 2006, when he arrived, to 11 in 2014. In 2015, the year before Magnus left to take a new job in Arizona, the homicide rate spiked to 21.
Brown, who served as deputy chief for five years under Magnus before being appointed to assistant chief and then chief in 2016, first joined the department in 1985. What followed was a tumultuous three years for Brown and the department.
First, a sexual exploitation scandal involving a young human trafficking victim and several Bay Area police departments rocked Richmond when at least two officers and one lieutenant were implicated in the scandal. Then, police Capt. Mark Gagan was fired only to be offered his job back over a dispute involving a leaked report.
Before his 2018 departure, former City Manager Bill Lindsay asked Boston consulting firm MBD Solutions to conduct a report on the police department’s leadership. Released last November, it offered a blistering take on the department’s top leadership, saying sergeants and officers felt isolated and were frustrated by a lack of vision at the top.