Michele Naughton ’10 ’13 ’18 uses her Saint Leo education to invest in her community through her work with the Norfolk Police Department.
Michele Naughton is a survivor who overcame being homeless, raising children as a single mother, suffering a serious injury, and fighting cancer on her journey to becoming a police captain with the Norfolk (VA) Police Department.
A triple Saint Leo graduate, Naughton studied at education centers in Virginia, and earned an associate degree in 2010, a bachelor’s degree in business administration-management in 2013, and a master’s degree in criminal justice in 2018. She also is a graduate of Saint Leo’s Command Officer Management program.
A self-proclaimed “Army brat,” Naughton lived in Oklahoma, Germany, Texas, California, and New York prior to moving to Virginia. “I lived in the Louis Armstrong projects in Bedford Stuyvesant,” she said. “My parents had six kids, and when I was 15, my mom decided to move from Sacramento to Brooklyn to reunite with my dad. He was an Army veteran and an alcoholic. His addiction forced my mother to leave. With six kids in tow, we walked the streets of Brooklyn. We were homeless at times.”
But the strength of her mother encouraged her. “She loved us and ensured that our education was a top priority,” Naughton said. However, her educational journey stalled when she became pregnant at 19. She became pregnant again with twin sons and soon followed her mother to Norfolk so she could have her support.
“I originally became a police officer because my mom told me to!” Naughton said. “It was that simple. But once I became an officer, and I realized that every day is different and there are many opportunities, I really enjoyed it.”
She faced more challenges as she tore her meniscus after entering the police academy, delaying graduation for two years until 2002. In 2005, while pregnant, she was diagnosed with cancer. She has been in remission since 2006.
Naughton said, “I have dealt with adversity throughout my career and this accomplishment [being named captain] answered the questions I posed to God such as why I survived cancer, but my 3-year-old nephew did not, why did I get injured in the academy so completion took almost two years, why did my mom get shot and survive, and why did I meet Officer Sheila Herring in the academy, who was killed in the line of duty in 2003? I finally realized that God had a purpose for me. I believe I can inspire others to achieve their goals and to keep going even when the going gets tough.”
In 2007, she became a community resource officer assigned to the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority. “I could relate to the concerns of the community as I had been a resident of the New York Housing Authority. I wanted to truly help make a safe community for the families, especially the children. I saw myself in the women in that community. I am a single mother, and I faced a lot of the same challenges as the residents. I was able to connect with them.”
Prior to being promoted to captain, she served in the patrol, detective, training, and vice-narcotics divisions throughout her career with the NPD.
Naughton learned about Saint Leo University from other Norfolk police officers. “I was drawn to Saint Leo primarily because of the flexible schedule, affordable cost, and numerous degree programs,” she said. “I was a single mother of three, and when I started my educational journey, all my children were in elementary school.”
She completed most of her undergraduate degree at the South Hampton Roads Education Center at JEB-Little Creek, and also took classes online and at the Norfolk and Oceana offices. Her graduate degree program and Command Officer Management program were completed at the Chesapeake Education Center. “I enjoyed blended classes because I was able to manage the amount of time away from work and family and still able to receive classroom instruction,” she said.
Through Saint Leo, she learned skills to assist her as she moved into a command position. “Certain classes like accounting, budgeting, management, and policy courses provided the knowledge to understand the business and legal aspect of policing and the administrative side of law enforcement. I believe that, coupled with my experience, has made me a better officer today.”
Law enforcement needs more women, Naughton said. Women possess many special characteristics such as emotional intelligence, she said. “My advice would be that sometimes we [women and women of color] may doubt ourselves because we don’t see people who look like us in positions of authority in law enforcement, but there is a place for you. I would say, ‘you are smart enough, you are strong enough, and you are good enough. You are enough!”
While she said law enforcement is not an easy career path, it is rewarding. “Whoever made the glass ceiling wanted it to be broken—if not, it would have been made of concrete or steel.”
Naughton is motivated by the sense that she can change people’s perception of police officers. “I can truly be part of the solution,” she said. “I am motivated by knowing that I am a part of an organization that believes in fostering positive relationships and inclusivity. I am motivated because I see the example of leadership through authentic community engagement that results in crime reduction and building trust set by Chief Larry Boone.”
In turn, the Norfolk chief has great things to say about Naughton. “Not only is she an inspiration to young women, she is also an outstanding model for leadership,” Boone said. “Having overcome personal, professional, and health challenges during her career, Captain Naughton’s background authentically resonates with citizens, as she is an example of endurance and fortitude for anyone facing difficulties in their life. I am certain her legacy will impact/influence the future of recruitment for women and minorities in law enforcement by her example and mentorship.”
In her position as captain, Naughton is the commanding officer of the Office of PRIME Affairs. PRIME is public relations, information, marketing, and engagement. She oversees the Public Information Office, Community Affairs Sections, and Community Outreach.
Naughton attributes her success and ability to move up the ranks within the police department to “the support and love of the community, co-workers, and family,” she said.
She volunteers weekly as a literacy tutor, co-hosts the bi-weekly radio talk show We Are One – NPD and You, and serves on the Cops & Curls Committee and the Fair and Impartial Policing work group. “I make time as it is important to me,” she said. “One encounter can change the path of a person’s life.”
And Naughton knows she does not do it alone. The support of her family, the Norfolk Police Department, the community, and God have encouraged her on this journey.
Photos by RGB Imaging