NORFOLK, Va. — Interim top cop of Norfolk, Michael Goldsmith, told 13News Now he is feeling hopeful by a seemingly downward trend of violent crime, according to numbers from the Norfolk Police Department (NPD) in the last six months of 2022.
However, Interim Chief Goldsmith noted those same numbers showed property crimes going way up last year.
The police force is navigating it all in the middle of a staffing shortage.
Numbers from NPD also showed violent crime down by 6% citywide, when you compare 2022 and 2021. Goldsmith said he could not attribute the decrease to any particular reason just yet.
"Some of this could be seasonality... some of this could be we made some key arrests that helped drive it down. It could be the stuff we did with the patrol enhancement strategy. We'll have to do some really heavy analysis," Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith also said, "This in no way declares any victory on violent crime. We still have too much of it going on."
Homicides for 2021 and 2022 sat at 63 each year, according to data presented to Norfolk City Council on Tuesday.
However, statistics showed property crimes, including burglaries, larcenies and stolen vehicles, jumping 43% citywide.
"I have to say that we have not seen numbers like this since the early part of my career when I was actually the sergeant in charge of the auto squad unit," the interim chief said.
Goldsmith also said the following, although there was a somewhat dip in property crimes in the last six months of 2022.
"We had gained so much steam in the front half of the year that it was just difficult for us to drive this number down to a real decline towards the end of the year."
He is urging the community to partner with police, by reducing so-called "crimes of opportunity."
"Lock your property up, do not leave your property in the car, do not leave your firearms in the car, don't leave things of value where somebody can walk by the car, break a window, open an unlocked door and take things," said Goldsmith.
And much like other departments in the U.S., NPD's force faces a staffing shortage.
Goldsmith told 13News Now there are approximately 500 sworn officers in his rank and file. That would make for 200 or so sworn officer vacancies.
"We're making ground, but we're not making it fast. So, that is again, why we're having the discussion about what do you do with the structure of the police department," he said. "There are pieces that can certainly be done just as effectively by non-sworn personnel. So, all of our crime analysis, all of our intelligence analysis, things we do forensically."
Even with staffing challenges, Goldsmith reassured that the department is fully committed to street patrols.
"We, as a matter of fact, over the summer, engaged in patrol enhancement strategy where we pulled people of places that weren't necessarily patrol devoted, put them in police cars to do patrol. We're still being effective in getting that done, to try to make sure that we're covering what we need to," he said.
Moreover, Goldsmith said plans are in the works to request budgeting for a program devoted solely to recruitment and retention. That's in an effort to boost existing efforts.
Currently, for example, the department's efforts are stretching coast to coast, with job ads for NPD in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington state.
The aforementioned challenges at the police department come as the city leaders carry on their search for a new police chief.
Goldsmith temporarily returned to the role of top brass, after former Chief Larry Boone abruptly retired in April 2022.
Nine months later, City Manager Chip Filer said he is close to whittling down seven finalists to a final two or three. He said he'll spend the next couple of weeks doing so, along with face-to-face interviews.
Filer previously anticipated having a candidate selected by the New Year, but he said the applicants underwent a lengthy written evaluation and questionnaire process.
"We asked questions on everything, from community-based policing, to over-policing, to community efforts in the department you're currently at, and we also asked several questions about a citizens review board," said Filer.
He mentioned they initially saw a pool of 30 qualified applicants.