NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The police staffing shortage in Norfolk has gone from bad to worse. Chief Larry Boone told WAVY the department currently has about 219 vacancies, give or take.

A full force he said, would be 776 officers. Boone told us the problem has been low pay and low morale.

In January 2020, he said they were short 100 officers.

“Without a doubt, the main reason for those hundred vacancies was pay,” he told WAVY.

The number dipped below 100 for a short time, then, he said, after George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis in May of that year, large numbers of police officers across the country turned in the badges — and Norfolk was no exception.

“Policemen are somewhat concerned about going into a neighborhood and making an arrest and being filmed and interpretation of said arrest. They have a real concern that, you know, they may be charged with something or second-guessed,” he said.

Norfolk is slowly seeing fewer retirements and resignations the chief said. Last summer, City Council approved bonuses of up to $12,000 for officers who agree to stay on for five years. More than 300 officers have taken them up on the offer.

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Applications to the department are up 81% since starting pay increased to $50,835.

There are currently 16 recruits in the police academy but the chief said that number will decrease in this class.

“I can tell you they all won’t graduate. Norfolk is a very difficult police department. Everybody doesn’t get a trophy,” he said.

Not everyone gets an interview either.

“The issue with drug use, that’s the big disqualifier,” he said, followed by poor physical fitness.

Finding qualified cops continues to be a challenge as Norfolk and other cities work to fill their ranks.

Boone said the department recently began working with a company out of California called Epic to highlight what’s attractive about the department and the Hampton Roads region.

They will blast the information out nationwide as a recruiting tool.