Norfolk City Council approves bonuses, referral program and new equipment purchases to retain police

Norfolk

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Norfolk police officers willing to stay with the department will now be eligible to receive up to $12,000 in bonus pay, as well as tuition reimbursement, referral incentives and use of new equipment.

Norfolk City Council unanimously approved spending $14.1 million Tuesday night to help address retainment issues in not just the police department, but across all its public safety departments.

City Manager Chip Filer brought forward the package of incentives following similar moves to keep and beef up police staffing in both Chesapeake and Virginia Beach.

Norfolk currently has more than 130 vacancies in its police force and many current officers are approaching retirement, according to Filer.

The shortage of officers trend is being seen nationally, with 9% of officers eligible now for retirement. Sixteen percent will become eligible in the next five years, according to Filer.

“That’s a lot of police officers,” Filer said.

Aside from retirements, Filer said the number one reason people leave is to go to other law enforcement jobs. Number two is to leave the career entirely.

On Tuesday, Virginia Beach Police Chief Paul Neudigate announced that because of his department’s program — in which an officer can transfer with their same rank and receive a $5,000 hiring bonus — 40 new applicants have applied.

While it isn’t known how many of those officers are currently in Norfolk, Filer wants to make it hard for them not to think twice.

“I definitely do not want to see any of our fine men and women leaving this police force for $5,000,” Filer told council members.

Filer mentioned bonuses in Norfolk will be paid out up front, unlike in installments like in Virginia Beach.

In exchange for a five year commitment to stay with the department, current sworn officers, corporals and sergeants could receive $12,000, lieutenants and captains $8,000 and recruits in the police academy could receive $5,000 once they graduate.

The bonus amount would decrease as more vacancies get filled.

Current officers would also be eligible for an additional $5,000 payment if they refer an officer and they successfully graduate from the academy and joins the force.

The new plan also includes benefits for other public safety employees and non-public safety employees alike.

The city will also work to transition sworn sheriff deputies to public safety pay plan, launch a tuition assistance plan for all city employees, allow some employees to “buy back” leave they didn’t use during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and work to replace police, fire and EMS vehicles more regularly.

Filer said officers need to know that still more changes are coming, such as addressing “pay and step” issues.

“I am committed to having this conversation as we approach the next budget,” Filer said.

Matt Watson, president of Norfolk’s police union. praised the update for vehicles and said it was a “big win.” However, he still doubted the bonus will work without other pay changes.

“I have over 20 years of broken promises to fix the pay and step issues, sorry if I can’t believe the city when they say they will ‘entertain’ that next year,” he wrote on Facebook.

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