Amid a nationwide exodus of law enforcement officers, Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled plans Tuesday to attract more candidates into Florida’s law enforcement community.
Speaking in Lakeland, the Republican Governor decried the “defund the police” movement and vowed to support police officers and thicken their ranks.
To do so, he announced a legislative package to bolster recruitment, including a $5,000 signing bonus for all newcomers.
The one-time bonus, he said, would apply to new officers as well as out-of-state officers who transfer to departments in Florida.
“We think that that’s a way to draw good talent from within our own state…,” DeSantis explained. “We also think it’s a way to capitalize [on] some of the folks who are not getting the support they need.”
The package seeks also to streamline the hiring process for out-of-state officers. Under the proposal, Florida will offer the police certification exam at no cost to out-of-state cops.
Additionally, the state will offer up to $1,000 toward Equivalency of Training (EOT) process costs.
That process — reserved for out-of-state officers and federal officers, among others — provides abbreviated training and certification to law enforcement veterans from elsewhere.
“This is an open invitation for folks in other states to look to Florida as a place where they can not only excel professionally but also have to live in a great community like we see here in Polk County,” DeSantis said.
Not least, DeSantis proposed a police academy scholarship to cover enrollment costs for recruits who attend basic police training without financial assistance.
Florida’s basic recruit training program can be costly. Lasting 16 to 22 weeks, recruits are often unpaid unless pre-selected and sponsored by a law enforcement agency.
The goal, DeSantis said, is to remove barriers.
“We provide support, and rightfully so, for people from four universities,” DeSantis added. “Why don’t we provide support for folks going to law enforcement academies?”
DeSantis unveiled the proposals alongside House budget chief, Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel, and Attorney General Ashley Moody.
Moody — the wife of a federal law enforcement officer — praised DeSantis, declaring Florida the most “pro-law enforcement state” in the nation.
“We will make sure that you have the tools and the resources you need to do your job and do them well,” Moody vowed to police officers looking to relocate away from the “woke mob.”
DeSantis’ hiring pitch comes as departments nationwide reckon with an exodus.
Thousands of law officers have quit and agencies are struggling to recruit after the murder of George Floyd.
Even among remaining officers, morale is low, according to a June survey by the Police Executive Research Forum.
The survey describes a one-two punch: first the protests, then calls to reform or even defund, all followed by a resurgent pandemic that remains the leading cause of death among officers.
“Applications have decreased dramatically, making hiring extremely difficult,” said an unnamed police executive in the survey. “And our officers have fatigue from working long shifts and covering backfill slots to supplement staffing.”
With traditional incentives and recruitment tactics failing to produce more applicants, Lakeland Assistant Police Chief Hans Lehman said the department has mobilized a traveling recruitment team.
Their most recent target: New York.
“We tried to go a little bit outside the box,” Lehman said.
Among the officers recruited out of New York is Matthew Soto.
Alongside DeSantis, Soto said he feared parking a police vehicle outside of his New York residence.
In Florida, however, he hopes things will be different.
“I wanted to do all these things to help people,” the two-year NYPD veteran said. “And the tools and the laws that were set in front of me did not allow me to do so.”