NORFOLK — Police Chief Mark Talbot had good news for the City Council this week.
Reported crime citywide was down in 2023, with homicides down 33% and total violent crimes down 24% from 2022, he said.
“We certainly are trending in a much more positive direction than most urban environments,” Talbot said at the Tuesday work session.
He also laid out the department’s goals for 2024, which included a maximum of 39 homicides and reducing the nonfatal shootings and the number of juvenile victims of gun violence gun by 20%. In 2023, the city had 42 homicides.
There were a combined total of 9,792 crimes reported last year, down from 12,816 in 2022, according to data included in Talbot’s presentation. However, the decline was not below the 9,281 crimes reported in 2021. The overall crime clearance rate is back in the double digits at 11% — up from 8% last year but down slightly from 12% in 2021, according to police department data.
Stolen vehicles were down 20%, Talbot said, a “significant accomplishment” citing success with the city’s Flock cameras.
“Technology is ultimately a tool we’re able to leverage good policing into good outcomes,” he said. “The Flock system has no doubt gone a long way toward helping us reduce property crime, in particular stolen vehicles.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s nationwide crime data for other cities won’t be available for another couple months of 2023, according to Talbot.
“But the preliminary numbers indicate that many major cities throughout the country are down,” Talbot said. “The trend is somewhere around 15%, we are more than double that.”
City Council members asked about efforts to address homelessness and mental health in the city, as well as how police can deescalate situations to avoid shootings by officers, such as one that happened last week in Wards Corner.
The police train with less lethal approaches but sometimes it’s not possible to use those methods — as was the case in Wards Corner, Talbot said.
“Police officers aren’t trained to kill — we are trained to stop threats,” he said. “The mental health professional has no magic and when somebody is engaging in lethal violence it is a police problem. Ideally, there are several steps prior to somebody getting to the point where they’re engaging in lethal violence.”
Councilwoman Mamie Johnson said she wants the city to craft a master plan to address the issues, saying officers are doing their best and its up to the leaders to address mental illness and homelessness.
Mayor Kenny Alexander acknowledged the city is experiencing a surge in homelessness.
Vice Mayor Martin Thomas said he receives complaints weekly about people who appear to be homeless and publicly urinate or defecate downtown. He said the residents want enforcement, not to make homelessness illegal.
Talbot said there’s nothing that makes those behaviors OK and there’s room for improvement in the police department’s response, but also that those people need resources.
“If either is missing we’re going to find ourselves in a big loop where the police officers are going back over and over again to the same people because they’re suffering from the same problems and those problems are going unaddressed,” he said.
He said that’s why the department seeks a more collaborative approach. The department said the chief has been meeting with Deputy City Manager Trista Pope and Downtown Norfolk Council President Mary Miller to discuss public safety issues in the downtown area.
Also during the meeting, Talbot said the department is making progress in bolstering its staff. As of Tuesday, Norfolk had 521 sworn staff and 22 recruits. The department is authorized for up to 617 officers.
Ian Munro, 757-447-4097, firstname.lastname@example.org