NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Down to a force of just over 500 sworn officers, the Norfolk Police Department isn’t expecting a return to force levels above 700 for the foreseeable future.

It is looking however to bolster the force in other ways to get near previous staffing levels, the interim police chief and city officials say.

The city currently has about 520 sworn officers, Interim Police Chief Michael Goldsmith said in a presentation during Tuesday’s informal city council meeting, despite the city budgeting for 757 officers in its fiscal year 2023 budget.

The estimated current figure of 237 vacancies is up from the already “historically high” number of 193 vacancies reported back in April by City Manager Chip Filer.

Hiring though has picked up, as the city has boosted pay for police and ramped up recruiting efforts.

The Norfolk Police Department’s recent recruiting efforts (Courtesy of City of Norfolk)

But based on past trends, and projected recruitment levels, Goldsmith says their models show NPD should still expect to have just above 500 sworn officers through at least 2028, and be able to adapt going forward.

Current levels at NPD and its 12-month outlook (Courtesy of City of Norfolk)

“Over the short-term and maybe even the intermediate term, you’re not going have a department of 700 anymore, and you really still have a department that’s built on 700 doing the things that 700 can do … so there’s got to be a conversation amongst all parties, to include the community, about what it is you want out of a police department and how you want a police department to run,” Goldsmith said.

With that, Goldsmith says the police department still needs to focus on three things going forward:

  • Answering calls for service
  • Investigating crime
  • Outreach to the community

He said the department is working with consultants to help with restructuring, which includes adding non-sworn civilian analysts that can help with investigations. The department has also reached out to retired officers to help fill positions.

“I think it’s fair to say with all the models we’re looking at and the reality of what the job market looks like, the City of Norfolk will probably never see 775 sworn police officers again,” Filer added in Tuesday’s meeting. “… there’s been a structural change to policing … it doesn’t mean we don’t have 700 really smart folks doing good police work, it just means we’re going to have to start thinking about how we’re going to have to adjust that sworn/not-sworn ratio.”

Filer says adding non-sworn employees allows the sworn officers to be out on the street, patrolling and investigating. He also wanted to emphasize that this isn’t “defunding the police.” Mayor Kenny Alexander and Councilman Tommy Smiegel both shared similar sentiments and said communicating this to the public is important.

Filer says this also doesn’t mean they’re not continuing to focus on increasing sworn officer levels.

“We have every expectation of getting us back to a sworn force level that we need for 250,000 residents we have in the city … we’re coming to the recognition that number is probably not 775, because of technological advancements and other things … it doesn’t mean that we feel comfortable trying to effectively police the city with 520 officers.”

The conversation about force levels came after Goldsmith shared the department’s 2022 crime statistics, which showed violent crime was down 6% compared to 2021 and property crime was up 43%.

Norfolk crime stats 2022 (Courtesy of City of Norfolk)

Homicide levels were the same for 2021 and 2022 at 63, and Goldsmith says they’re “in no way declaring victory over violent crime” and there’s “still too much of it” in the city.

The largest increase in property crime was through larcenies such as items taken from unlocked cars, and thefts of vehicles frequently stolen at the national level such as Hyundais and Kias, Goldsmith said.

You can see more about the crime stats at the beginning of the presentation here.

Norfolk is also down to seven candidates to fill the police chief position, whittled down from 30 candidates who had to complete a “very long” evaluation, with questions from community-based policing to over-policing, Filer says. He expects in-person interviews to start in the next week.