The Norfolk, Virginia, Police Department is hoping various recruitment and retention initiatives, to include a wellness program and financial benefits, will help fill the more than 200 vacancies left by personnel who either resigned or retired from the force this past year.
“If conditions hold as they are today, we’ve got five years before we see some incremental improvement, and we need to be prepared for that,” Norfolk Police Chief Michael Goldsmith told Fox News in early October.
The department’s staffing woes, similar to many other agencies across the country, began in 2020 when its vacancies increased from 47 to 117. The trend continued into 2021, with vacancies climbing to 162.
Goldsmith attributed the crisis to a “perfect storm” of resignations due to the “negative narrative” toward policing after the 2020 protests, combined with a wave of a “baby-boomer retirements.” Goldsmith added that the force is set to lose another 77 officers by the end of the year.
Goldsmith himself announced his retirement in October of this year. The department is actively searching for his replacement.
“The Norfolk Police Department is in crisis,” retired Norfolk officer Frank Algood told the Virginian-Pilot. “The next chief is going to have to go in there, find those who can do the job, and get them promoted. I hope we can get individuals put into leadership to give us a great police department.”
Low staffing levels come at a time when the city is experiencing record high rates of crime. A recent WalletHub study ranked Norfolk as the eighth-worst city in the nation in terms of increase in its homicide rate, per Fox News.
Despite low numbers, Goldsmith and Sergeant William Pickering, a spokesperson for the department, said the department received a small reprieve in the form of a new academy class.
“I am happy to report that we will have a new academy starting on November 7th as well as our current academy graduating on December 15th. This will have a positive impact on the number of vacancies we are currently experiencing. Nevertheless, we are working hard to recruit individuals who are interested in the law enforcement profession as well as those officers who are moving to the area from other agencies,” Pickering wrote in an email to Fox News.
Pickering added that the department offers a starting salary of $52,105 for certified officers, as well as a $5,000 signing bonus for new officers and a $12,000 retention bonus.
The city is also unveiling a wellness program for police officers, which includes counseling services, physical therapy and relaxation services.
“Recently, Norfolk City Council approved a robust wellness and resilience program that will provide our officers with counseling opportunities, chiropractic adjustments, massage therapy, float therapy sessions and infrared sauna sessions, just to name a few. We are hopeful that all these important incentives will assist in our recruitment efforts,” Pickering said.