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Monday, November 29, 2021

DeSantis pushes even more benefits for law enforcement officers

Posted By on Mon, Nov 29, 2021 at 4:55 PM

Promoting Florida as “greener pastures” for law-enforcement officers, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday teased a plan for salary increases and bonuses as part of his upcoming budget proposal.

DeSantis said the budget he will propose next week for the 2022 legislative session will include $73 million to increase pay for officers at the Florida Highway Patrol, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Minimum pay for entry-level officers would increase by 20 percent, while salaries of veteran officers would go up 25 percent.

The proposal also will include a second round of $1,000 bonuses for first responders as a show of appreciation for work during the COVID-19 pandemic

“Last summer, we made clear we had their (law enforcement officers’) back. We wanted to make sure our communities were kept safe,” DeSantis said while flanked by officers and motorcycles inside the Florida Highway Patrol Troop D building in Orlando. “And we wanted to show our appreciation that as other jurisdictions were defunding law enforcement, or taking money away, that we would fund and then some.”

DeSantis’ budget proposal will serve as a starting point for lawmakers, who will negotiate a final spending plan for the fiscal year that will start July. DeSantis also has rolled out portions of his environmental and education budget proposals. The legislative session will start Jan. 11.

DeSantis on Monday reiterated his intention to secure $5,000 bonuses to help recruit law-enforcement officers to Florida, along with scholarship aid for students in law-enforcement academies and free certification exams.

"We feel that we have an opportunity strategically, to get an advantage and to recruit, not just great people in our state to go into it, which we'll do, but also some of the best throughout the country, who are looking for greener pastures,” DeSantis said.

The current average pay for a state trooper is about $45,000, while the average pay for troopers in all states is about $53,000.

In October, the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles made a $24.4 million funding request to the Legislature to boost pay for troopers to become more competitive with local law-enforcement agencies across the state.

“One thing that we continually hear about (from individual troopers) is, ‘Where are we going to be in 10 years, 15 years.’” Pace Callaway, a research economist with the department, told members of the Senate Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee on Oct. 15. “And that's something that we can’t offer that most local (police departments) and sheriffs can.”

Callaway said the number of trooper vacancies had grown from 198 in August to 238, “and most of the time it's due to a lack of pay.”

Other parts of DeSantis’ funding proposal Monday included $11 million to raise the minimum pay of Department of Juvenile Justice detention officers to $17 an hour and juvenile probation officers to $19 an hour.

The funding request will also include $124 million to increase base pay for correctional officers at state prisons and more than $1 million to increase salaries of the state’s special-risk firefighters by $2,500 a year.

DeSantis said the Department of Corrections request “builds off” a plan approved this month by the Joint Legislative Budget Commission to give correctional officers base-pay increases of at least $5,000 and newly hired officers one-time bonuses of $3,000.

The legislative plan, aimed at mitigating chronic staffing shortages at the Department of Corrections, called for base pay for correctional officers to be $38,750, up from $33,500. It called for base pay to go from $36,850 to $42,100 for sergeants; from $40,535 to $45,535 for lieutenants; and from $44,589 to $49,589 for captains.

The plan is funded from $67.8 million in savings derived by closing New River Correctional Facility in Bradford County, closing 73 dorms at facilities scattered throughout Florida and placing “in reserve” 1,290 permanent positions at the Department of Corrections.

Veteran correctional officers who earn more than base pay will receive annual salary increases of $1,500.

The plan also gave the corrections department the authority to hand out one-time bonuses of $3,000 for new hires, $1,500 for correctional officers and $3,000 for probation officers.

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