Violence in Norfolk highlights need for more officers

NORFOLK, Va. - Extreme violence over the weekend put the city of Norfolk in the national spotlight after a horrible shooting on Granby Street early Saturday morning.

25-year-old Devon "Malik" Harris from Portsmouth was one of the victims who died in the shooting.

The incident happened near Chicho's Pizza, and it took the life of Virginian-Pilot reporter Sierra Jenkins, also 25, as well. Additionally, three more people were hospitalized after the shooting.

Norfolk Police Chief Larry Boone said Tuesday that they have no suspect information, no surveillance video and don’t know how many shooters there were.

He said the dispute started over a spilled drink.

Boone said one of the victims was released from the hospital and another is in stable condition.

He said he spoke to the victims' families and offer condolences on behalf of the entire police force.

As police work to find answers, they are also under extreme stress of not having enough officers on the streets of Norfolk.

According to police, they’ve got 557 sworn officers with about 219 vacancies, with roughly 16 recruits in the academy.

“Anytime you’re dealing with shortages it’s challenging. You don’t do more with less,” said Boone.

Boone addressed the media giving an update on the violent shootings, information about shortages and recruitment efforts.

Chief Boone says back in January 2020, they were down about 100 officers and attributed much of that to lack of pay. He said then George Floyd was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis.

The chief said officers fear being filmed during an arrest then put under unfair scrutiny.

“They have a real concern that they may be charged with something or second guessed,” said Boone.

He said it’s also tough to become a Norfolk Police officer – and not everyone qualifies.

“The issue with drug use, that’s a big disqualifier,” said Boone. “Next to that would be physical fitness.”

And it’s not just Norfolk.

News 3 previously reported that Virginia Beach Police were also trying to fill positions.

Tuesday, the Virginia Beach Police Union President Brian Luciano described what it’s like working with shortages.

“It’s exhausting; it’s stressful; it’s tense,” said Luciano.

He said it causes officer burnout, which can lead to people retiring early or leaving the department altogether.

They said more needs to be done to combat the violence.

“Quite honestly, we have to have a discussion as to why people think it’s OK to go out and visit our cities armed to the teeth and ready for combat,” said Luciano.

Norfolk city officials said they’re working to recruit more officers, track illegal guns and increase police presence on Granby Street this week.

“We don’t want to look like the military are occupying Granby Street, but we need to find a healthy balance so folks will feel comfortable moving about and those that come with bad intentions will feel uncomfortable,” said Boone.

News 3 reached out to several police departments about recruiting events and shortages. Here's what they said.

Recruiting Events:

Chesapeake Police:

They currently have 38 vacancies and 338 sworn officers.

Virginia Beach Police:

Many law enforcement agencies across the country are losing employees due to the high levels of job stress being placed on officers as consequences of defund the police movements and calls for police reform. The Virginia Beach Police Department (VBPD) is no exception. The VBPD currently has 91 vacancies. Feelings of under appreciation have caused officers, who may have otherwise remained on the department, to retire early and other, less tenured officers, to leave the law enforcement field all together. Couple this with the struggle as a profession to attract quality candidates and you end up with substantial staffing shortages.

“The VBPD continues to work hard to attract well qualified candidates to our academy as well as certified officers from other departments within the state of Virginia. We are thankful to the Virginia Beach City Council for their continued support. There is no easy solution to fill these vacancies. Even with these staffing challenges, the hard-working officers of the VBPD continue to provide outstanding services to the citizens of Virginia Beach daily. “

Suffolk Police:

Suffolk Police advise that they have 162 officers currently with the department.

They have 35 vacancies for police officers with officers in various stages of training at the current time (field training, academy training).

Staff noted that they are attending recruiting fairs, advertising on social media, and are constantly re-evaluating their marketing strategies for recruitment.

Hampton Police:

They have a total of 296 officers. They say there are 30 vacancies, 38 in training, with a total of 84 unavailable for duty.

Newport News Police:

They have 470 sworn officers with a shortage of 70 but say 13 are scheduled to graduate on Friday and another 27 are set to graduate in August.

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