PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — In February, 10 On Your Side reported on a slow police response to a drive-by shooting, which caught the eye of the local Fraternal Order of Police.
The Fraternal Order of Police weighed in, addressing the dangerously high number of vacancies on the Portsmouth Police force, calling it an urgent matter. They said it’s a systemic problem in the City of Portsmouth and they’re getting tired of it.
In Portsmouth, it’s known as a “Code 11,” which is asking if there are officers to come fill a shift. The Portsmouth Fraternal Order of Police said the practice is too common.
“We need more police officers, we have pay disparity and severe understaffing in our police department,” Fraternal Order of Police President Ron White said.
The Fraternal Order of Police contacted 10 On Your Side after our story about city resident Juan King on Feb. 18.
Gunshots were recorded on doorbell video from the November drive-by shooting at King’s home. There were at least 21 rounds that struck King’s house. Luckily, none of the seven people inside the home were hurt.
According to the 911 communications report, it took 34 minutes for an officer to get to the scene after King’s initial call. Police claimed the slow response was due to another gunshot incident at the same time in Cradock. For 23 of those minutes, the call was held because there wasn’t an available officer. The bottom line: Portsmouth police could not handle those two calls at the same time.
Portsmouth Vice Mayor De’Andre Barnes is concerned about police staffing shortages.
“Yes, it is concerning… Yes, it is terrible,” he said.
Following 10 On Your Side’s Feb. 18 investigation, the Fraternal Order of Police put out a news release addressed to the “Citizens of Portsmouth.”
“Tonight, WAVY aired a story specifically addressing the direct impact the low staffing numbers of the department are having on the citizens we strive to serve and protect when responding to calls for assistance… The story aired by WAVY TV-10 should have opened the eyes of all our city leadership tonight and given our citizens a better understanding of what their officers are facing daily.”
White also said more officers would help fix response time issues.
“You got people complaining about response times on calls. If we had more police officers it wouldn’t be a problem,” he said.
10 On Your Side asked Interim Portsmouth Police Chief Scott Burke about staffing issues causing delayed response times.
“It’s a contributing factor, but it is not necessarily staffing that is the driving factor,” he said.
Brent Stokes, who is the newly appointed public information officer for the Fraternal Order of Police, and the author of the news release in response to the WAVY report, disagrees with Burke.
“I share a different opinion for that fact, and in my opinion, [staff shortages] is the reason that our response times are low,” he said.
Currently, the Portsmouth Police Department has 71 vacant positions.
In November, Chief Burke told Portsmouth City Council the number of application packages was much lower than previous years. Those packages include the application of the prospective candidate. “We didn’t get packages from Human Resources for the application process.”
The Fraternal Order of Police blames Human Resources.
“Human Resources is not reaching out to the applicants. They are not getting us information on an applicant. It is not being done in a timely manner before that applicant may find a job somewhere else,” White said.
10 On Your side went to Human Resources with White’s statement. “That perception is incorrect,” Portsmouth’s Human Resources Director Dee Wright said.
“That is not just a Portsmouth issue, it is a national issue, and we are doing as much as we possibly can to get these positions filled,” Wright said.
Wright launched a recruiting campaign in November which included sign-on bonuses. However, the Fraternal Order of Police said police recruiting is best handled inside the police department — as it once was — and not in Human Resources.
“I don’t think police should be treated any differently relative to how we recruit. We want to make sure we are recruiting the best candidates. Recruitment is a collaborative effort with the police department,” Wright countered.
The Fraternal Order of Police also noted officers are leaving in part due to salaries that don’t greatly increase over the years.
“If you gave every officer $15,000 dollars on top of their salary, that would help improve the problem,” Stokes said.
The Fraternal Order of Police said that amount would still be less than the amount saved from those 71 open positions, which is about $3.1 to $3.4 million a year.
10 On Your Side asked Interim City Manager LaVoris Pace about that, and he understands. With all these openings, why not use all that saved money from those people who haven’t been hired and give it to the people who are already on the force?
“Well, I understand that, but as you know with the fiscal issues there are competitive priorities. I am not saying we cannot do it. I say we will look at what we have, and see what we can do to make that happen,” he said.
At the very least, it would appear there is a middle ground on the issue of standard of living. The Fraternal Order of Police thinks giving those who are currently working more compensation could solve the vacancy issues.
Despite the issues, Stokes wants to make it clear the officers on the force are still working for the people.
“No matter what trials and tribulations our department is going through with staffing and pay disparity, the citizens of this city will always be first and foremost,” Stokes said.
In the end, police take an oath to “protect and serve.”
The Fraternal Order of Police officers WAVY spoke with just want to make a fair living, and fill the vacancies that are forcing almost everyone to work overtime and respond to Code 11s.