Norfolk names new police chief - and addresses his unusual hiring
Mark Talbot is the chief of police in Hampton. Or is until the end of the month, at least.
Talbot was asked to help Norfolk with the search for its next police chief, interviewing candidates for the job. Talbot himself hadn’t applied. After all, he'd only been on the job in Hampton since June 2021.
As Norfolk conducted its face-to-face interviews with three finalists a few weeks ago, City Manager Chip Filer said he didn't feel like any of them were quite the right pick.
But he did like what he was hearing from the Hampton chief during those interviews.
“Just the interactions that I’d had with Chief Talbot, the questions that he was asking, the conversations we were having after the candidates, I just said ‘geez, I think Chief Talbot would be a pretty darn good chief here in Norfolk,” Filer told reporters Wednesday.
So he asked Talbot if he would be interested. The chief said he’d be honored and formally applied. In just a couple of weeks, Talbot was being announced as Norfolk’s next top cop, much to the surprise of top Hampton officials.
“I'm surprised as well,” Talbot said. “If you would have asked me 30 days ago ‘where are you going to be?’ it would not be here.”
Talbot has more than 30 years of experience in law enforcement and was named police chief in Hampton in June 2021. He became the department’s first Black chief.
His short tenure as chief there was marked primarily by the high-profile disappearance of 4-year-old Codi Bigsby. The department and Talbot personally were criticized for their management of the case.
Talbot admitted at a press conference that the department mishandled an interview with the primary suspect, father Cory Bigsby, and apparently violated his Constitutional rights when detectives ignored his requests for a lawyer. (Bigsby has since been charged with 30 counts of child neglect unrelated to the boy's disappearance).
Talbot arrives in Norfolk at a time when homicides in the city have soared to their highest numbers in decades and there’s been a lot of public pressure to get violent crime under control.
Previous police chief Larry Boone retired abruptly a year ago, amid a series of high-profile shootings downtown. (Boone is the sole finalist for a police chief job in Urbana, Illinois.)
City officials have since pivoted to talking tough on crime, pointing fingers at the city’s prosecutor and cracking down on nightclubs and bars downtown.
He said the use of data and analysis to inform strategic policing was one of the keys to beating back crime on the Peninsula.
“We've made several changes to the way policing works in the culture (in Hampton) and many of those things I'm looking forward to introducing to this great police department,” Talbot said Wednesday.
Norfolk’s police department has struggled for years with chronic understaffing. The city currently budgets for 770 officers but around 200 officer positions currently sit empty.
Hampton has also had vacancies, but at much lower rates. The city recently has reported between 35 and 40 vacancies.
That’s a roughly 11% vacancy rate, compared to a nearly 30% vacancy rate in Norfolk. Hampton’s department is about half the size of Norfolk’s
City Manager Chip Filer says with the recruitment issues Norfolk has had, hiring that many officers is unrealistic.
“I’m going to take as a given that we’re not going to get to 770 (officers) in fiscal year 2024,” Filer said during a budget briefing with reporters.
His budget proposal this year includes cutting 118 of those open positions, bringing the number of officer jobs down to 652. Filer proposes using the money that would have been budgeted for those extra positions to give the remaining police a 5 to 7.5 percent raise.