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Down 255 officers, Va. PD ups the ante on recruiting efforts with new incentive programs

The department predicts it will lose 77 officers by end of year due to retirements and resignations, pushing the vacancy rate above 40%

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Faced with rising vacancies due to retirements and resignations, Norfolk police are using new ideas to attract officers.

Photo/Facebook via Norfolk PD

By Daniel Berti
The Virginian-Pilot

NORFOLK, Va. — Faced with rising vacancies, the Norfolk police are using inventive ideas to attract new officers to the city.

The department held a “hot cops” recruiting event this week. It launched an advertising campaign in New York City. And the City Council gave officers a boost in pay, $12,000 signing bonuses and “wellbeing” benefits like yoga and float therapy.

But a quick fix it is not.

The police department expects to lose another 77 officers by the year’s end, pushing the vacancy rate above 40%, according to acting Police Chief Michael Goldsmith. And even with a spike in new recruits, the shortage will persist for at least five more years based on model forecasting by the city’s Civic Lab.

“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,” Goldsmith said at a council retreat on Friday at the Virginia Zoo.

Norfolk’s police force is down 255 officers — 32.8% below full staffing level.

Losing another 77 officers will put the vacancy rate at 43.9%.

The reason for the uptick in departures is a “perfect storm” of “baby boomer retirements” combined with officers leaving the profession, Goldsmith said.

Baby boomers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — are reaching retirement age, while others are leaving because of the “negative narrative” about police that arose following nationwide protests in 2020, he said.

City Manager Chip Filer called it a “retirement tsunami” that is impacting other city agencies as well.

But it’s not all bad news. Goldsmith said there are signs the city has “turned a corner” with recruitment and retention after a steady decline in numbers over the past few years.

The number of new recruits has jumped 34% over the year before owing to the city’s recruitment initiatives, with 40 new police recruits coming onboard next July. The department also poached six officers from New York City following the city’s ad campaign, evidence that those advertisements worked, Goldsmith said.

If those numbers continue to improve, he said the department could see staffing levels return to normal more quickly.

Goldsmith also announced at the meeting he would retire within a year from the department. Norfolk is searching for a new police chief to take the place of the former chief Larry Boone, who resigned in April.

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