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Florida law enforcement agencies struggle with attrition within ranks

Agencies focus on recruiting
Posted at 10:23 PM, Nov 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-04 08:50:57-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — I went to Port St. Lucie recently to talk to police about manpower and the mood within the ranks. This is a year in which police have faced much-heightened scrutiny since the murder of George Floyd. Calls to "defund the police" and ongoing COVID-19 worries also are backdrops for discussions everywhere.

Officer Dionis Veras is undeterred. He came to Port St. Lucie after serving four years with the New York City Police Department. He loves his patrol beat and said of his new community, "I think it's important to get out there."

"I go down the street," he said. "They say, 'I love you. We support you. Thank you. Thank you for your service.'"

Veras is one of 280 sworn officers in the Port St. Lucie Police Department, which is confident it can maintain and grow the ranks.

"You see the national narrative with the defund the police movement, anti-police sentiment," Assistant Police Chief Richard Del Toro said. "We really don't see that here in the city of Port St. Lucie."

WATCH: Michael Williams' interview with Assistant Police Chief Richard Del Toro on 'To the Point:'

WPTV Anchor Michael Williams interviews Assistant Police Chief Richard Del Toro

Del Toro said his department is committed to engagement with an increasingly diverse community and said recruits have to know that as they come in the door.

"This is going to be a partnership, hopefully for 30 years, and I don't want anyone to come to the Port St. Lucie Police Department and find out after day one, 'Oh, I didn't know customer service was important. I didn't know community policing was important.'"

In Palm Beach County, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw oversees 1,600-plus sworn personnel.

"It's not so bad in Palm Beach County. You know, we haven't had any defunding issues," he said. "In fact, the county commission has been very supportive."

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw says agency hasn't had issues with defunding
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw says his agency hasn't had issues with defunding.

Bradshaw is confident he can hold the manpower line, but recruiting is more vital than ever in today's world.

"In 2019, we had pretty close to 700 applicants when we went out and did recruiting," Bradshaw added. "Right now, in the last 11 months, we're at about maybe 300 at the most."

The jail that the sheriff oversees has faced more acute pressures, part a result of COVID-19 worries.

"We're down about 60 people, and when that happened, we had to go to 12-hour shifts," the sheriff said.

An incoming recruit class aims to bolster corrections personnel, but it takes time. Statewide, Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing for $5,000 recruiting bonuses to attract officers and deputies to Florida.

Bigger departments can hope to compete on pay and benefits, but Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association President John Kazanjian said smaller departments are struggling. Adding money is not the issue.

Kazanjian said more public education is needed to curtail those who "badmouth the police."

Police leaders I talked to said their agencies need community support while acknowledging it comes with the constant need for internal accountability.

"The majority of our officers out here, day in, day out, are doing a good job, putting their lives on the line, really want to serve the community the right way," Del Toro said. "And when we don't get it right, listen, we have to own it, learn from it and move on."

Veras offered a final perspective, one of a young officer who grew up in what he calls a tough neighborhood in the Bronx.

"At the end of the day, no matter what is going on around the world, there's always going to be someone calling 911 and asking for help," he said. "And I always wanted to be that individual (who) came and helped them."