Crime and public safety concerns at the forefront for Portsmouth city leaders, police, business owners

Posted at 4:34 PM, Sep 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-21 12:14:29-04

PORTSMOUTH, Va. – The Portsmouth Fraternal Order of Police is urging residents to speak out and express any concerns they may have regarding public safety concerns.

Detective William Watts, the second vice president of the Portsmouth Fraternal Order of Police, says he is very concerned about losing officers to other cities.

"We're losing officers left and right. So far this year, we've lost 30," said Det. Watts, "and I would speculate at least 50 this year. We have six that are getting ready to go into field training. We have 13 that just started the Academy.”

Watts added, “And of course, then you have officers who are being offered a $5,000 pay a bonus to go over to another city.”

The Fraternal Order of Police is urging city leaders to use funding to help retain and attract officers. Monday evening, Dana Woodson, Public Affairs Officer for the City Of Portsmouth sent a statement that funding will be addressed in the next City Council meeting on September 28. See her statement below.

Earlier on Tuesday, Public Information Officer Victoria Varnedoe sent the following statement on this topic:

Like departments around the country, we are facing staffing issues. We have more than 70 openings within the department. We have had several new hires and are continuing our recruitment efforts with the City and are still providing a sign-on bonus and other competitive incentives for those who seek to join the Portsmouth Police Department. Despite staffing numbers, we are still providing quality services to the residents of Portsmouth. We will continue to do so by coordinating efforts with our local law enforcement partners and with the cooperation of the residents of Portsmouth.
Portsmouth Police Department Public Information Officer Victoria Varnedoe

The City of Portsmouth hosted a press conference addressing crime on Tuesday, Sept. 21 at noon inside City Hall, located at 801 Crawford Street. The public was invited. Among those attending were be Mayor Shannon Glover, Police Chief Renado Prince and City Manager Angel Jones. You can watch the meeting in the Facebook Live stream above.

In historic Olde Towne Portsmouth, members of the Olde Towne Business Association say they meet regularly with police.

“We’ve had the shop in Olde Towne for five years and love being in Olde Towne. It’s a great part of Portsmouth! Even still, there are some things that happen where we need to have the police involved, and the police have always been fast to respond to us,” said Chris Cushna, owner of Olde Towne Arts and Music.

Cushna feels there are many angles to addressing safety, including mental health care.

“The facilities that are supposed to be helping these people aren’t operating at full capacity. They’re releasing them into the streets and it’s creating a problem for society, and that’s something that we need to address,” Cushna stated.

A representative of the city’s marketing department says the press conference on Tuesday at noon is open to the public.

The following is a written statement sent by Dana Woodson, public affairs officer for the City of Portsmouth:

The Federal Government has assigned certain monies to the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). The decision of how to prioritize and allocate these funds has been an ongoing process involving discussion between Portsmouth City Council and City Leaders since notification of the assigned funds. City Manager, Angel L. Jones, has indicated that continued discussion regarding these funds is on the September 28, 2021 Portsmouth City Council Agenda. Included in that discussion, Ms. Jones hopes to offer some additional monies to current City of Portsmouth Police Officers.

Ms. Jones appreciates the work of our City of Portsmouth Police Officers and is and has been working behind the scenes on their behalf. During the COVID 19 pandemic, the City of Portsmouth has rewarded and supported its police officers in the following manner:

1. In August 2020, all City of Portsmouth active first responders, including police officers, received hazardous pay.

2. In October 2020, all City of Portsmouth employees, including police officers, received a 3% General Wage Increase.

3. On July 1, 2021, the City Council approved the City of Portsmouth FY 2022 Classification and Pay Plan which included increasing the minimum pay amount for the following positions:

Police Officer Trainee 8.14 %

Police Officer 7.69 %

4. In addition, those police officers employed as of July 1, 2021, received another 3% General Wage Increase, on July 1, 2021.

In August 2021, the City of Portsmouth conducted an informal wage survey comparing starting police officer trainee and police officer wages with those of the other regional cities. The informal wage survey found that the City of Portsmouth was not offering the highest rate nor the lowest rate when comparing starting wages amongst Police Officer Trainees and Police Officers.

In comparing the number of police officers that left the City of Portsmouth’s employment from January to September 2020, and the number that left from January to September 2021, the number in 2021 is actually less than 2020.

The City of Portsmouth is always assessing resources to find opportunities for retention incentives, career progression options, and merit increases based on “value-added” to the City through educational/training achievements, professional certifications, specialized skill development, and employee evaluations. These matters are amongst the priorities for our City and the City is working to address them as resources allow.