Host: The state program that pays hiring bonuses to cops moving to Florida from out of state has a few police departments in this region as takers. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Department is not among them. Ramon Lopez reports.
Bernard Gonzalez [epic music]: My name is Officer Gonzalez. I work for the Lakeland Police Department as a police officer, born in New York and raised in the Dominican Republic. I was a New York City police officer for two-and-half years before coming down to Florida. Two years ago, a couple of my friends and co-workers from New York just started making the move. And I started asking questions, and they provided a lot of information in reference to the support that they were given by the departments, by the whole state, and how different it was. You get the right training. The departments are always backing you up, the support from from the public in general. For us New Yorkers, it’s like a big thing. Being able to take a car home and not being, look to the side and see, is it really safe coming home with a uniform?
Ramon Lopez: That was Bernard Gonzalez in a short video produced by the State of Florida. He now “protects and serves” the public in Lakeland as a motorcycle cop, because of a program hawked by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Gonzalez took advantage of the state program designed to grab police officers nationwide to fill the ranks of police departments locally and around the Sunshine State.
He was joined by 13 additional NYPD officers at the Lakeland Police Department. The Florida Law Enforcement Recruitment Bonus Program has drawn law enforcement officers from all 50 states, says DeSantis. To date, nearly 1,000 trained cops have moved from other states. They cite the one-time $5,000 signing bonus as one key reason for moving to Florida.
Some local municipal law enforcement departments in Sarasota County have taken advantage of the program. A new officer with the Longboat Key Police Department relocated from Maryland for the quality of life. He said the bonus bucks took the stress out of financing the move South.
The growing Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has not seen a need to participate in the state recruitment program.
“The Law Enforcement Division only has 10 job openings,” SCSO spokesperson Dana Judge told WSLR News. “The division was increased by 18 personnel for the 23-24 budget year. Eight of those 18 have been hired. The staffing goal for 2024 is to fill all 451 full-time positions in patrol, special ops and other units.”
“We currently don’t utilize the bonus for specific recruiting since we don’t attend out-of-state recruitment events. However, when we speak with prospective out-of-state applicants, we do advise them of the bonus. Overall, the bonus has helped in recruitment, as most out-of-state applicants have heard about the bonus through the media.”
DeSantis has urged officers throughout the country to move to Florida, if they are unhappy with their departments. Billboards hawked the program near Chicago. Forty-seven officers quit Illinois, citing the high cost of living there, the bonus reward, plus other reasons.
“Florida is first in the nation in law enforcement recruitment because of our focus on back-the-blue initiatives that make our law enforcement officers feel supported by their communities,” DeSantis said in a press release. “In Florida, we know the invaluable service that law enforcement professionals provide our communities, and we’ve got their backs.”
Officer Mercedes Phillips now serves with the Cape Coral Police Department. Previously a police officer in Maryland, Phillips says her previous employer was “too politicized”. And she likes living close to her parents who retired to Florida. She says it was “a no brainer” to accept the five thousand bucks signing bonus.
Motorcycle Man Gonzalez said there were issues at the NYPD. He said it was tough fighting crime in the Big Apple without the right equipment. Gonzalez said there was often a “disconnect” with the State Attorney’s Office. Officer Gonzalez offered advice to his “brothers in blue”.
“Stop thinking about moving to Florida, and just do it because this is where police officers can serve proudly”.
This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.
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Wednesday, February 28, 2024
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