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News 3 Investigates: Local police officer shortages strain departments during gun violence uptick

Maple Street mass shooting scene in Portsmouth
Posted at 6:30 AM, Jun 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-13 07:21:00-04

Portsmouth, Va. – The News 3 team of investigators learned every police department in the seven cities is facing a shortage of officers amid sharp rises in gun violence.

“We do not have enough horsepower,” said Governor Youngkin in an interview with News 3 about gun violence in Hampton Roads. “We need more feet on the street. We need more patrols.”

At the time of this report, Norfolk has the deepest deficit with a vacancy of 248 officers. Virginia Beach follows with 92 police officer vacancies. Portsmouth isn’t far behind at 88 police officer vacancies. Chesapeake is down 39 officers. Hampton needs to fill 37 spots. Records show Suffolk is down 35 officers. Newport News has the least number of vacancies at 18.

Police officer shortages are affecting law enforcement agencies nationwide as gun violence reaches epidemic levels, and Hampton Roads is not immune. Since the beginning of June, for example, the city of Portsmouth has seen nearly 20 shooting victims from several shootings across the city. The violence in Portsmouth follows deadly shootings in downtown Norfolk on Granby Street and at MacArthur Center, and echoing heartbreak from the mass shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Governor Glenn Youngkin during a visit to Norfolk earlier this month. “Every morning I wake up and I pray before I open up my phone, ‘Father, please protect everyone in the commonwealth of Virginia’.”

News 3’s team of investigators asked Governor Youngkin if the National Guard should be tapped to help local cities get a handle on gun violence.

“This is more of a role for [Virginia State Police] to cooperate with local law enforcement,” said Governor Youngkin, referencing an experimental partnership between the Petersburg Police Department and Virginia State Police that began in April. “We've seen great results.”

Virginia State Police officers are providing additional patrol and investigative resources to Portsmouth beginning June 20. While more boots on the ground could prove helpful, Portsmouth Police Chief Renado Prince said a lack of cooperation from witnesses to recent gun violence is a major roadblock to peace.

“We're missing the action of our citizens,” said Chief Prince. “Somebody listening knows what led to a shooting. Somebody listening knows who a shooter was.”

Chief Prince, along with police officers and Portsmouth Mayor Shannon Glover, are working to engage the city’s residents through community walks. Portsmouth leaders also want the $1,000 reward from Crime Stoppers for tips leading to arrests to be increased to $5,000.

Governor Youngkin said the pending state budget includes $400 million for local police departments to increase salaries and resources for officers.

Visit our Gun Violence Solutions page which features all of News 3's coverage on what is being done in Hampton Roads to combat gun violence.

Click here for more News 3 Investigation stories.