Historical Summary

Early law enforcement in colonial America was created out of necessity as it became necessary for growing towns and cities to maintain order.  It is believed that Boston developed the first law enforcement function known as the "watch" in 1631.  The adoption of Constables and Sheriffs began to spread throughout the colonies, especially in seaports and larger cities but there were differences between law enforcement priorities in the north and south.  In northern cities, early police were mostly watchmen, checking businesses and ensuring fires didn't​ break out in densely populated areas, whereas in the south, early law enforcement priorities included such activities as hunting down livestock thieves and fugitive slaves (sometimes referred to as slave ​patrols).  Slave patrols were first Two-horse Patrol Wagonestablished in South Carolina in 1704 but quickly spread to the other 13 colonies.   The Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation essentially ended the practice of slave patrols; however, during the post-Civil War period of reconstruction, some of the old slave patrol tactics and methods were repackaged and became standard operating procedures in many southern police organizations.   It was not until the latter half of the 20th century were these tactics were challenged and eventually diminished via the addition of civil rights statutory laws, Supreme Court decisions and a shift in social attitudes and opinions.   

As the Industrial Revolution emerged, the need for policing became even more relevant as social disorder grew in conjunction with a rising population, specifically in inner cities.  Overcrowding, increased immigration, public health issues, rises in violent crime and socio-economic divisions were but some of the conditions that created the need for public order and safety.

What is now the City of Virginia Beach is drastically different then what it was a few centuries or generations ago.   Much of modern Virginia Beach was once Princess Anne County, which can trace its origin as far back as 1691.  Princess Anne County was created by splitting Lower Norfolk County into Norfolk County and Princess Anne County.   The earliest records show that in 1640, Thomas Sawyer was appointed Sheriff of Lower Norfolk County.  By the time Princess Anne County was formed in 1691, Sheriff Benjamin Burrough held that office.    It was not until 1906 that the Town of Virginia Beach was formed and in 1952 became an independent city.  In 1907, the Town of Virginia Beach hired its first police force of 3 officers; the first of whom, Charles Wesley Griggs, was appointed Town Sergeant.  Of interest, since the Town of Virginia Beach was located within Princess Anne County, the Sheriff's Office also had concurrent jurisdiction.    In 1936, Princess Anne County established its first Police Department, independent of the Princess Anne County Sheriff's Office, and appointed George W. Halsted the first Police Chief.   In 1928, the Town of Virginia Beach redesigned its police department and changed the title of Town Sergeant to Chief of Police.  Its first police chief was Harry R. Holland

The first reported officer in Princess Anne County to be killed in the line of duty was Special Constable Malachi J. Beasley in 1898.  During the attempted arrest of an alleged gun thief and freed slave named Oscar Lovitt, Constable Beasley was shot and died as a result of his wounds.  Oscar Lovitt was eventually arrested, convicted and was reported to have been the last man to be sentenced to be hanged in public in Princess Anne County.

In review of some of the criminal codes adopted by the Town of Virginia Beach in the 1940's, one can draw an image of the differences in social conformity in those early years compared to what we find commonplace today.  For example, Chapter 18, Section 8 Bathing Trunks - Wearing in public places reads as follows:  It shall be unlawful for any person over ten years of age to appear on any street or in any public place within the town west of Ocean Avenue [Atlantic Avenue], sometimes called Atlantic Boulevard, in bathing trunks, without being clothed in some additional garment which substantially covers the upper portion of the body.  

History circa 1930History circa 1940

History today



                  Circa 1930's                                  Circa 1940's                                        Modern Day

It was also illegal for African-Americans to be on many of the beaches in Virginia Beach for other than supporting the service industry.  The police officers were not only used to enforce segregation laws as well as laws that promoted gender bias, but they were used to force social conformity as dictated by the time.

Seaview Beach sign 

Early Pictures of "Colored Only" beaches in Virginia Beach and Princess Anne County

In 1963, the two square miles that constituted the City of Virginia Beach merged with Princess Anne County to form modern day Virginia Beach.  By comparison, Princess Anne County was roughly 249 square mile and was 124 times larger than Virginia Beach; however, Princess Anne County failed to retain its name.   Most residents in the southern areas of Virginia Beach still refer to the region as "The County."   

The first Chief of Police for the newly merged City of Virginia Beach was James E. Moore (1963), who was succeeded Map of police precinct in 2015by William W. Davis in 1968.   In 1982 Charles R. Wall was appointed Chief of Police, and is largely credited for professionalizing the agency into what the Virginia Beach Police Department is today.   In 2000, Alfred M. "Jake" Jacocks, Jr. was appointed the department's fourth Chief of Police, serving until his retirement in 2010. Chief Jacocks was largely responsible for modernizing the agency.  The current Chief of Police is James "Jim" Cervera , appointed in September 2010 and who has led the way in guiding the agency into the 21st century policing model.    

The Virginia Beach Police Department is the largest city police department in the Commonwealth of Virginia.  The department is allocated 806 sworn positions and another 180 full time civilian positions.  The VBPD staff is separated into four divisions.  Each division has specific responsibilities, specialized training and equipment to support the overall mission.  The Operations Division constitutes two-thirds of the agency and is often referred to as the "uniform division."   Within the Operations Division are the four area commands, known as precincts.  The First Precinct is located in the southern district of the city and has the largest land mass.  The Second Precinct is located in the resort area, located north of Dam Neck Road to the Lesner Bridge.  The Third Precinct is located in the Bayside area of Virginia Beach and the Fourth Precinct is located in the Kempsville Borough of the city.  The Operations Division also has the Special Operations Command that consists of specialized units such as the SWAT team, K-9, Air Unit, Marine Patrol and Mounted Patrol.   The Investigative Division constitutes the Detective Bureau, Special Investigations (undercover Vice and Narcotic detectives) and the Forensics Unit.  The Professional Standards Division manages the department's Training Unit, Internal Affairs and Accreditation.  The Support Division manages a bulk of the civilian staff, which includes Finance, Payroll, Planning and Analysis, Property and Evidence and Records. 

The men and women of the VBPD serve the community in a myriad of ways. As early as 1990, the VBPD adopted the Community Policing philosophy.  This has become the cornerstone of how the agency interacts with the citizens whoCalea Seal live, work and vacation in Virginia Beach.   Among the many specialized functions of the VBPD, several are not typical for most agencies.   The VBPD has the only Mounted Patrol Unit in Hampton Roads, the only Air Unit (2 helicopters) in the region, and a Marine Patrol and Dive Unit to provide maritime security and safety.    Since 1987, the VBPD has been internationally accredited through Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA).   Although several Hampton Roads agencies have recently obtained voluntary accreditation recognition, the VBPD has a rich history of holding itself accountable to the highest standards of excellence. During the 2015 CALEA inspection, the VBPD received the "Gold Standard" award for its compliance with international standards. Over the past two decades, the VBPD has maintained a distinction of being the safest city, or one of the safest cities, its size in the nation. In 2015, Virginia Beach vs. other cities with a population of 350,000 to 900,000 had the lowest crimes per 1,000 residents of 23.2.  By comparison, Denver (39.8 per 1,000), Minneapolis (57.7 per 1,000) and Memphis (77.8 per 1,000) were reported to have substantially higher crime rates.    These distinctions do not occur unless the agency builds strong community support.   Over the past several years, the VBPD has taken community outreach to a much higher level.  Community surveys, citizen police academies, outreach to the homeless, appointing a LGBT liaison, mental health intervention, project lifesaver, specific training on how to police the juvenile population and fair and impartial policing are some of initiatives the VBPD has implemented in support of meeting its mission and vision to be a premier law enforcement agency.  

Although the agency has much to be proud of as it relates to current initiatives; the VBPD does not ignore its own Black Law enforcement Pioneershistory.   Riots at the oceanfront in 1989 by predominately African-American college students (Greekfest) made headline news throughout the nation.  As a result, the City of Virginia Beach established the Human Rights Commission while the Department simultaneously established the Citizen Advisory Committees.   More efforts were made to recruit more minority applicants, specifically African-Americans and females.   Challenges to diversifying a law enforcement agency are not unique to Virginia Beach; the traditional law enforcement candidate was a tall white male.  Breaking the color and gender barriers within the Princess Anne County Police or Virginia Beach Police Departments were recent events compared to the history of the profession.  Although officially the first female to be granted arrest authority was Gladys S. King in 1955 (listed as a Special Officer in Princess Anne County) the first full time female Police Officer, Cathy Townsend was not hired until 1974.  African- Americans were also slow to be integrated into the ranks of the agency.  Although Robert E.W. Sparrow was the first African-American to have arrest authority when he was appointed as a Princess Anne County "Special Deputy" in 1938, it was Mondoza "Money" Holloway who became the first full time police officer in 1952.  Between 1952 and 1969,  there were only eight full time African-American police officers, the  additional officers being ; Russell H. Lawrence, Charles C. Pace, Eugene Ramsey, John E. Parks, David S. Whitehurst and Warfield M. Wood.    There were two part-time officers hired by the City of Virginia Beach in the 1956, Clyde I. Siler and Alexander Woodhouse.   In 2012 and 2013, he VBPD honored the first Black Law Enforcement Officers to serve in Princess Anne County and the City if Virginia Beach.

Over the years, the VBPD, to include Princess Anne County PD, lost several officers to line of duty deaths.   For information regarding our fallen officers please click here​.

Current State: The VBPD is not unlike other agencies in that it faces significant challenges.  These challenges are not isolated; they are interwoven into the national debate relating to police legitimacy, a focus on procedural justice, use of force, recruiting, retention and a need for effective community policing efforts. All of these are related to other critical challenges in establishing meaningful, relatable and successful community outreach efforts.  In order to either establish community trust, or maintain it, police departments must create systems that promote trust and legitimacy.  Patrol Officers and leaders of all ranks must demonstrate fairness, impartiality, and transparency.  Their efforts must be effective, genuine, honest and sincere.  Law Enforcement should be of the community and for the community, not imposed upon the it. The VBPD has made this a fundamental component of officer training, written directive systems and disciplinary processes.   The VBPD has established the conditions by which officers understand how they are to operationalize their actions in support to the mission of the agency.   

Foundationally, law enforcement's goal is to preserve life and maintain the peace.  The current challenge is to ensure that the breakdown in social disorder and social mistrust between the public and the police does not result in acts of violence. Over the past three years, Virginia Beach has addressed a new phenomenon known as "College Beach Weekend" which predominately attracts African-American students from around the mid-Atlantic region.   Roughly forty thousand people visited Virginia Beach last April (2016) and helped kick off what is expected to be another busy tourism season in the city.  Leaders from within the agency established a plan of outreach to external stakeholders to increase communication and transparency.  Area colleges were visited by VBPD personnel to promote a healthy and safe weekend.  VBPD teams worked with the local businesses and the hotel management/owner community solidifying a formal security plan to mitigate conflict. Other department members collaborated with Department of Justice representatives along with volunteers from the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission to independently monitor the resort area with a focus on citizen and police interactions. College-aged volunteers actively engaged visitors to ensure every individual greeted with a friendly face, was treated with respect, and provided with local information as appropriate.   The 2016 College Beach Weekend was a huge success and represented the positive outcome of community policing. 

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