Protests across the nation and beyond have rightfully called for the arrest and prosecution of the four officers involved in the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. “Defund the Police” has moved from a protest chant to so serious a policy proposal, it has been embraced by cities such as Minneapolis and New York.
Defunding the police is the wrong strategy. In fact, police need increased funding. Virginia Beach public safety professionals have been long underpaid and my first budget as mayor saw a major investment to address public safety pay compression.
We need to do more, not less.
Increased funding should also include full-funding of body cameras, which the police began phasing in since 2018, and full-funding for the administrative work to review and log camera footage. Additional funding should also include increased community relations and training, because although I believe the Virginia Beach Police Department is the best trained police force in the world, training must be constant and can always be updated and improved.
A year ago, the most horrifying day in Virginia Beach history was May 31 when a mass shooter took 12 innocent lives in Building 2 at the municipal center.
Can you imagine that day without a police force?
The quick, immediate, professional action of the police saved lives and
prevented the shooter from escaping and killing more on the outside or
in other buildings. Four officers who never worked with each other
arrived on the scene first but worked together this day thanks to
Virginia Beach’s extensive cross-training in tactics. Our police are
Defund the police? No way.
Let’s be clear about the Virginia Beach record on police.
The state minimum of police academy training is 13 weeks. Virginia Beach requires 27. The state minimum for field training is 2.5 weeks. Virginia Beach requires 17. Every police recruit visits the Holocaust Museum. Last year, out of more than 256,000 citizen contacts, Virginia Beach police officers used force only 733 times (0.024%), many times lower than Minneapolis.
Virginia Beach police are prohibited from using tactics such as placing a knee on a person’s neck. Our police are required to intervene if they observe a fellow officer violating our use of force policies.
As a result, incidents of use of force that result in serious bodily injury are almost non-existent and complaints of such are in the single digits (a rate of 0.002%).
Virginia Beach police officers are certified as Crisis Intervention Team members and trained in CPR, applications of tourniquets, administration of Narcan, and use of defibrillators. Our police officers are often the first responder to a medical crisis and our crisis calls include a co-response with mental health professionals.
Our police department has 833 officers for a city of more than 450,000 residents in 310 square miles with millions visiting annually. The fact that we remain among the safest cities of our size in America shows the amazing job our police and the citizens of Virginia Beach continue to do to work together for a safe community for everyone.
Transparency is crucial, and all police use of force incidents require supervisor response and all complaints of bias-based encounters are documented and investigated including all body-camera footage.
When I saw the evil that George Floyd was subjected to, I was horrified. All four officers have justifiably been charged and prosecuted.
We all should work toward greater understanding and collaboration. Sometimes, it starts with just listening — listening to fears and insecurities, and realizing that people experience prejudice that others don’t. Over time that builds barriers between all of us instead of bridges.
I know Virginia Beach is committed to positive community bridge-building. I certainly am. In the next few weeks, we will hire a new city manager and a new chief of police who I assure you will be committed to the highest levels of community engagement, listening, transparency and training to keep any use of force incidents at the low level they have been in Virginia Beach for years.
But defunding the police is off the table. What if you called 911, and no one answered?