Norfolk, Va. – With murder rates on the rise, and staffing shortages in the headlines, we decided to take a look at just how understaffed the Norfolk Police Department actually is.
Recently, Sheriff Bob McCabe estimated there are 50 vacancies in the department. Michael McKenna, the president of the Norfolk Police Union, believes that estimate should be doubled.
“We have 2 or 3 of them that have been on desk duty pending their investigations for almost 2 years, so that takes people off the street," McKenna said to NewsChannel 3 Thursday morning.
McKenna says they aren’t taking into account things like special assignments, sick days, paid time off, and new officers who aren’t allowed to patrol alone.
So we went to the Norfolk Police Department to see how many officers were technically employed but not able to work the streets.
According to their documents, out of 775 allotted sworn officer positions, there are only 23 actual vacancies in the department.
With 33 recruits in training and 13 on administrative duty, the department is out a total of 69 officers.
“In a perfect world, we would want to have a police officer on every corner to ensure the safety and the protection of our community members. That’s not feasible," said Cpl. Melinda Wray. "719 officers versus almost 250,000 citizens, it is just not possible for us to have an officer on every single street corner.”
McKenna still stands by his estimate however, and says fixing an understaffed department starts with fixing their pay.
“Policemen don’t become policemen for the pay...but if you can’t afford to pay your bills, and you can’t afford to have a family, then you have problems.”
According to McKenna, the department is operating under a horribly skewed pay system.
"I'll give you an example," said McKenna. "A new recruit will start out at say $37,000. By the time he has been on for two years, he will be making more than the officer that trained him."
McKenna says the union asked to start officer salaries above $40,000. He is fighting the same battle today.
Currently a police recruit makes about $38,000 a year. A police officer (someone who graduated from the academy) starts at about $41,000 a year. The maximum salary an officer can make is just under $61,000.
"If the city does not correct these pay problems, you're going to lose more police officers, that the city spends hundreds of thousands of dollars to train, to other localities," said McKenna.