The Norfolk Police Department in Virginia is ramping up initiatives to attract new recruits as the force copes with hundreds of vacancies this 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 said earlier this month.
Data provided to Fox News Digital shows sworn vacancies at the department have ballooned from 47 in 2019 to 117 in 2020, and up to 162 in 2021. Sworn vacancies sit at 227, as of last week.
Goldsmith attributed the increase in departures to a “perfect storm” of an influx of officers leaving the profession amid a “negative narrative” on police following the 2020 riots and protests, combined with “baby boomer retirements,” the Virginian-Pilot reported.
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The department is also in search of a new permanent police chief, as Goldsmith announced his retirement earlier this month. Goldsmith previously served as police chief of the city and returned to the role on a temporary basis this spring after former Chief Larry Boone retired.
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“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.”
Goldsmith warned this month that the force is bracing to lose another 77 officers by the end of the 2022 fiscal year, further exacerbating the vacancy rate. The vacancy rate at the department is expected to exceed 40% by the end of the fiscal year, which begins at the start of July in 2023, the Virginian-Pilot reported.
Crime has also risen in the area, with a recent WalletHub study ranking Norfolk as the 8th worst city in the nation in terms of increase in its homicide rate. The city has reported 53 homicides as of earlier this month, which is 14 more killings than the city’s decade average.
Goldsmith highlighted earlier this month, however, that the department has “turned a corner” on recruiting and retention this year, the Virginian-Pilot reported.
That sentiment was echoed by a spokesman for the department, who told Fox News Digital that an upcoming academy is graduating in December and another academy is set to start in November.
“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,” Sgt. William Pickering said in an email.
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Pickering outlined that the department offers a $52,105 starting salary for certified officers, as well as a $5,000 signing bonus for new officers and a $12,000 retention bonus.
The city has also implemented a wellness program for department members, with the hopes it will help with recruitment.
“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.
Norfolk is far from alone in coping with an increase in vacancies on the force.
St. Louis has reported resignations stacking up in recent years, with 94 fewer detectives and officers as of this month compared to data from October 2021. The Seattle Police Department reached a 30-year staffing low this year. The vice president of the Philadelphia FOP Lodge sounded the alarm in August that the department is set to lose 800 officers in the next four years.
Additionally, in Austin, Texas, there are 220 vacancies at the police department, as of mid-October. Active and former members of the department told Fox News Digital this month that morale has cratered following progressive leaders in the city defunding the department in 2020.
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“Everybody who keeps getting elected here is just further to the left every time, it’s gone from more passively anti-police to, what you’ve really seen since 2020, is just overtly anti-police,” an Austin police officer, who wished to remain anonymous, told Fox News Digital. “I think that has been a big tipping point for a lot of people and we’ve just had enough.”
The president of the National Fraternal Order of Police, Patrick Yoes, said in August that police officers were leaving the “profession at a rate we’ve never seen before.”
“Our profession is dependent on the best and brightest stepping up and taking this job. And because of the actions, and because of the turmoil that has happened in the last two years, we have a crisis right now in manpower,” Yoes said at the Faith & Blue conference in Washington, D.C., in August.
“Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a very difficult time in American history in the last two years. America’s law enforcement has been demonized by many. It has created a rift within this country and eroded the very trust of the institution and the profession of law enforcement,” Yoes added during his remarks. “And we’re paying for it. We’re paying for it in our communities with higher crime. And we’re also paying for it in law enforcement officers.”
Fox News Digital’s Andrew Mark Miller contributed to this article.