NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — This year, the Norfolk Police Department made history with its appointment of a Black woman as its new assistant chief.
Two months into the new job, Michele Naughton-Epps spoke to 10 On Your Side about the role.
“I’m from the projects in Brooklyn. I lived in the inner city; I didn’t like the police,” Naughton-Epps said.
Today, as NPD’s first assistant Black female assistant police chief, Naughton-Epps credits her mother with starting the transformation.
In the late 90s, Naughton-Epps moved from New York City, where she was working at Toys “R” Us to Norfolk so her mother could help her raise her premature twins.
Her mother saw a better path ahead for her daughter in the Norfolk Police Department, and repeatedly encouraged her to apply.
Naughton-Epps eventually relented, and made it to the police academy, where a torn ACL and meniscus held her up.
She credits fellow recruits, including Sheila Herring, with helping her make it through.
“Without them, I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through the academy.”
Just barely starting out their careers, Herring was killed on the job, making Naughton-Epps question her own path.
“I know Sheila would not have wanted me to quit,” Naughton-Epps said. “I just kept driving, kept going.”
But tragedy hit again and again: Naughton-Epps was diagnosed with cancer. She survived, but lost a pregnancy. Shortly after, her nephew died from cancer.
“Why would [God] leave me and take a 3-year-old?” she said. “That was difficult to understand. But it came a point that I had to realize there was purpose on my life, that God was not done with me.”
With that realization, Naughton-Epps leaned in even harder, completing her associates, bachelors and master’s degrees, and getting promoted through the ranks.
As a leader, Naughton-Epps works to build trust between officers and people like her – people who might not even like the cops to begin with.
“It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, what you’ve done in the past, what you’re suspected of doing,” she said. “I’m going to give you respect because we’re all entitled to it, because we’re all human.”
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