Officers' silent protest highlights VBPD morale mess

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) -- A lack of backing from their police chief -- that's what several Virginia Beach police sources say made some officers so upset they held a silent protest over the weekend.

10 On Your Side learned some Virginia Beach police officers limited themselves to the basics of their job over the weekend, purposefully not going above and beyond. That means they responded to calls for service from dispatchers, but did not do any proactive policing, like initiating their own investigations, making traffic stops and talking with suspicious people.

The silent protest against Chief Jim Cervera is part of a morale mess at the Virginia Beach Police Department. It comes on the heels of two recent incidents where officers were put on administrative leave after proactive policing.

The most recent incident happened earlier this month at the Oceanfront. A man accused of punching a club door manager was arrested by three officers. Citizen video shows the officers taking down the suspect: one officer kneeing the man in the shoulder or head, while another punched him in the side.

Another video of the same arrest shows the man resisting and assaulting one of those three officers. So, officers feel Cervera overreacted by opening up a criminal investigation and putting the three officers on administrative duty.

Another incident happened in January, but the citizen video surfaced in April. During a traffic stop, a 17-year-old was pepper sprayed and shot with a stun gun several times after refusing to exit a vehicle. An officer involved in that incident was also put on administrative duty.

Chief Cervera told 10 On Your Side he wants to see all the facts from the investigations of both those incidents, but said he feels he did the right thing by taking the officers off the streets in the meantime. He plans to hand over the department's findings about the Oceanfront arrest to the Commonwealth's attorney Wednesday morning.

VBPD sources told 10 On Your Side the silent protest over the weekend happened city-wide -- all to send a message to the chief.

Cervera said he did not know about any such protest and said he wants to see the number of tickets and arrests from over the weekend before he makes any comment. 10 On Your Side asked for those numbers and was told it could take several days.

Cervera also told 10 On Your Side he plans have a meeting with all of this training officers to see if there is something systemic in the department. He said police leadership is not turning its backs on anyone.

Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms didn't know about the protest either, but said he couldn't believe it would happen.

10 On Your Side spoke with attorney Mike Imprevento, who represents the Virginia Beach Police Benevolent Association. He said he was informed by high-ranking VBPD officers that morale in the department is the lowest it's been in a long time. He said it's a time when policing is as dangerous as it has ever been.

Chief Cervera said he appreciates what Imprevento had to say, but does not think that statement about morale in his department is true.

Virginia Beach residents spoke to on Tuesday evening said they understand the officers' frustration. Glenn Rosso, who helped organize a rally in support of police this winter, said the job of a police officer is tough enough, without low morale within the department.

"The position they're put in is just astronomically tough," Rosso said. "I don't see how they go to work each day and do what they do."

Some residents said they understand why police are protesting, but they're still concerned about how their actions could affect the community.

"I can understand that they want to be supported," Roshonda Baines said. "But, also, as a resident, I want to be supported."

Baines added, she hopes the protest comes to an end and officers can work out their differences with department leadership.

"That's very important for our police officers to be supported," Baines said. "They need that. They need that in order to protect us."

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