By the summer of 2005, the murder rate in Richmond, Ca., a rough refinery town of 103,000 across the bay from San Francisco had reached the point where the City Council debated declaring a state of emergency, the Los Angeles Times reports. Richmond’s undermanned Police Department had trouble just getting witnesses to come forward, particularly in one neighborhood where many of the killings took place. In 2005, police made arrests in only 13 percent of the homicide cases they investigated.
The city turned for help to the most unlikely of saviors: the police chief of nearly all-white, nearly violent-crime-free Fargo, N.D. The city hired Chris Magnus, 45, a proponent of community policing techniques, to run a department battling not only violent crime but also a chronic manpower shortage and internal racial divisions. A year later, even his initial detractors give credit to the man whose first act when he moved to Richmond was to buy a home in one of the city’s rougher neighborhoods. Officials say Magnus’ personal approach has built public trust and dramatically reversed the dismal homicide clearance rate. Last year, arrests were made in more than half of the city’s 40 homicides. Magnus reintroduced a classic geographic beat system, dividing the city into three districts and six beats. He made senior officers more personally accountable for what happens on their turf. “The chief gave us voice mail, e-mail and cellphones,” said Police Lt. Mark Gagan.