The program that provides continuing education for Florida police officers is going into the next year with 40 percent less money. That’s raised concerns about public safety, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement says, it’s working to restore the funding.
Long after graduating basic recruit academy, law enforcement officers are required by Florida law to continue training throughout their careers. They can fulfill that requirement by taking special classes in things like interrogation techniques and homicide investigation.
Jeff Helms is a trainer who teaches officers things like stress management techniques. Helms said, a few weeks ago, he had just gotten to work at a training center in South Florida, “And my coordinator, my training liaison who I work for, she pulled me into her office and said, ‘Guess what. You got anybody you know in the unemployment office?’ Because effectively, trainers like myself will be out of business.”
Helms said, the coordinator told him, the budget for continuing education for the year beginning July 1 had just been slashed about 40 percent. The number of officers in the state, around 76,000, hadn’t changed. But the amount of money for continued training had just gone down from almost $70 per officer to $40 per officer. Helms said, that means the community colleges and sheriff’s offices that hire trainers will have to scale back their offerings.
“It’s gonna come down to this: less training offerings and the cheapest product you can get. But you got to keep in mind, when you’re dealing with life and death, do you want the cheapest product you can get?” Helms said.
E.E. Eunice is the executive director at the Florida Public Safety Institute, run through Tallahassee Community College. It’s one of 40 officer training centers in the state. Eunice said, center directors were blindsided by the funding cut for advanced and specialized training.
“When those funds are cut, obviously that means there’s going to be a reduction in the officers’ training, because we just don’t have the funds,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said, the money for continuing training comes mostly from court fees, including the fines tacked onto traffic tickets. But, she said, as crime rates have gone down, the fund has been declining since 2006, and it’s expected to keep declining.
So, in order to keep all 40 of the training centers operating, last month, the commission that manages the fund approved the 40 percent reduction in training money for next year.
Helms, the trainer who says his job is in danger, said many law enforcement officers he’s talked to believe the cut will affect public safety.
“Every officer and every citizen in Florida will be rendered less safe when we offer them little or minimal post-academy training,” he said. “Of course, we need money to train, and if there’s no money, they get little training. Everybody’s less safe.”
But Eunice, who runs the Florida Public Safety Institute, said, he’s not ready to submit to doom and gloom just yet. He said, centers might have to just get creative.
“The bottom line is that we’re not going to lower our standards,” he said. “We’re going to keep offering the courses. If the individual officer or the agencies choose to pay for the courses, that’s going to be funding source.”
And the Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokeswoman said, the department is continuing to talk with the Florida Legislature about getting more money for continued training in the long term.