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In a worker shortage, the Florida House passes a bill to help recruit and retain law enforcers

Leon County deputies walk in Tallahassee's Veterans Day Parade 2021
Patrick Sternad WFSU
Leon County deputies walk in Tallahassee's Veterans Day Parade 2021

Law enforcement agencies around the state are understaffed, leading to longer response times for emergency calls and slower crime investigations. Now, an effort to lure more officers to Florida has been approved by the House.

“Members, we have the opportunity today to make Florida the most law enforcement officer friendly state in the country,” said R-Daytona Beach Rep. Tom Leek, explaining his bill on the House floor.

“It provides law enforcement agencies with additional tools to bolster the recruitment and retention of qualified officers by providing financial incentives, enhanced training, expanded educational opportunities, and recognition that honors law enforcement officers’ service to the state of Florida,” Leek said.

Agencies nationwide were already having trouble attracting and keeping officers when the pandemic made it worse. The bill includes a signing bonus worth up to $5,000 for new officers, and it increases the base salary for each county sheriff by $5,000.

Rep. Patricia Williams, D-Ft. Lauderdale, offered three amendments to the bill that were rejected. The first would’ve required out of state job candidates to have all employment records, including complaints and disciplinary actions, sent to the state rather than being delivered by hand.

“If I am providing my records and there’s something that I don't want you to see, I can easily remove it,” Williams said. “But if it's sent by the agents that have it in hand, it will come directly from the agent directly to the state of Florida.”

The second amendment would’ve granted a probation period to candidates who are unable to pass the swimming test. Williams said certain areas have “a problem with recruiting minority candidates, and this will actually assist removing one of those barriers that we have in place.” Leek responded that the bill is already designed to loosen requirements for job candidates.

The last proposed change would’ve required discharged military personnel to go undergo and pass additional mental and psychological evaluations before being hired. Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, called Williams’ efforts at amending the bill noble.

“I was present in the Appropriations Committee where you shared in a very heartfelt way the experience that you personally had in your life with law enforcement, and it was not a positive experience,” Driskell said. “It unfortunately is an experience that is shared by far too many, and we know in communities of color that this happens. And I know that with this amendment and with your other amendments, you've been trying to bring a different perspective to the conversation, and I appreciate that.”

The biggest concern for Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, is a $25,000 benefit for an officer who adopts a child with special needs.

“If the motivation and the incentive to become a parent is a check, I am really concerned for the welfare of the child,” Thompson said. “$25,000 is not going to cover the expenses for any long period of time for a child with special needs.”

A $10,000 benefit would be available for other adoptions. Thompson also doesn’t like a provision that makes dependent children of officers eligible to receive a Family Empowerment Scholarship – known as a voucher - to attend private school.

The bill requires officers to be taught health and wellness principles as part of their certification and continued employment training. It creates a scholarship program to cover basic training tuition and fees for new officers. It would also designate May 1st as Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.

“Members, for the better part of two years, a vocal few in our society have vilified the men and women in law enforcement, seeking in essence to cancel cops,” Leek said in closing on his bill. He cited various companies that have distanced themselves from law enforcement amid the Black lives matter movement – even calling for the defunding of police. “In Florida, we don't cancel cops, not today and not ever.”

The House passed the bill on a vote of 108 to 4. It was sent to the Senate for consideration.

Gina Jordan is the host of Morning Edition for WFSU News. Gina is a Tallahassee native and graduate of Florida State University. She spent 15 years working in news/talk and country radio in Orlando before becoming a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU in 2008. Follow Gina: @hearyourthought on Twitter. Click below for Gina's full bio.