NORFOLK, Va. — Wednesday night, the Norfolk City Council met to talk about the future of the MacArthur Center, which has been on the market since January after years of decline.
The city is discussing spending $18 million to buy the mall, but some say that money should go toward policing and public safety.
The association that advocates for police officers, known as the Southern States Police Benevolence Association, says that there’s a list of expenses that should take precedent over the mall, including salary increases and repairs to the department buildings.
Michael Lynch, the President of the Norfolk Chapter of the Police Benevolent Association and a Field Forensic Detective for the Norfolk Police Department, says the city is short an alarming number of officers, about 300 to be exact.
Instead of millions going into a mall he says he’d like to see money go toward higher pay, recruiting more people and upgrading their vehicles and buildings. Lynch says their 3 police department buildings are very outdated and in disarray, especially the police operations center.
“We only have half of a working bathroom and we just had another major sewer backup a couple months ago. The men’s restroom the urinals were completely taken out and there was a big hole in the wall where the pipes were covered with cloth. Why not look at these buildings instead of wasting money on buying these building that are just going to sit empty for a while just like the Military Circle Mall did,” says Lynch.
According to the City of Norfolk, next years proposed budget would provide some funding. The operating budget for FY2024 is 1.44 billion dollars. If approved 83.4 million dollars would go toward the Norfolk Police Department.
However, Lynch says he doesn’t think that money will help much.
“I know some of that money is supposed to go towards the real time crime center is that going to help us yes, but directly for the officers and the police department, no it won’t help,” says Lynch.
The city also says the proposal includes step increases and a 2.5% pay increase for sworn public safety officers. Each officer will receive a minimum of a 5% pay increase.
Lynch says it’s not nearly enough because of high compression issues. He says five year officers are only making $3,000 more than a new officer, which is why he fears his already understaffed department could see even more openings in the next six to eight months.
“As soon as people find out that their pay is not where it should be, they’re going to go to Virginia Beach or Chesapeake, some of them are going to leave law enforcement all together,” says Lynch.
According to Lynch, the lawyers of the PBA recently sent a letter to city leaders to allow collective bargaining, which is recognized by Virginia Representatives and used in other cities.
However, the city of Norfolk says there hasn’t been any discussion of it involving any city work groups for more than a year.