PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The Portsmouth Fraternal Order of Police is concerned about the safety of the city. Members say staffing shortages have officers moved off specialized public safety units and back onto street patrol.
“It makes it difficult,” said FOP Vice President Mike Holley.
Working as a police officer is not easy to begin with. Holley said this change has officers doing double duty.
“Most of the time we are dealing with people having a bad day,” Holley added.
And these days in Portsmouth, officers say it is harder than ever.
“Every officer in the department is doing double the work because of our manpower shortage,” he said.
The FOP sent out a news release Monday detailing various operational changes within the department to tackle short-staffing.
The department has lost almost 100 officers in the last three years and is down nearly 80 men and women. To combat the issue, officers from specialized units such as traffic, street crimes and school resources have been moved back on the street.
The Portsmouth Sheriff’s Office has agreed to send deputies into the schools this fall to fill the void.
“Our main focus was to combat violent crime in the city,” added Portsmouth FOP Vice President William Watts.
Watts is a detective assigned to the street crimes unit which focuses on gang activity.
“In one month alone, we took 23 firearms off the streets from violent gang members,” Watts said. “That’s 23 shootings that we are able to circumvent.”
The FOP says the issue is pay. There are good officers who are leaving the city for other opportunities.
“A 10-year officer that goes to the Beach right now will get a $5,000 bonus to sign on and a $20,000 pay raise because they pay for experience,” Watts added, referring to a bonus recently approved by Virginia Beach City Council.
Chesapeake has approved a $5,000 retention bonus for officers.
Norfolk City Council earlier this month also approved a plan to give officers up to $12,000 in bonus pay depending on their rank.
In the news release sent Monday, the FOP said it had spoken to Portsmouth city management about recruitment and retention, but only received a response that the city is “working on it.”
“We are going to start worrying about burnout,” Holley said.
Officers understand why they are doing double duty. The question is, how long can they keep it at this pace?
“With more people, it lessens the burden on our officers,” Holley added. “It allows us to get back to the units that have now been dissolved.”