The first $5,000 bonus payments to new law enforcement officers in the state are being sent out, and Gov. Ron DeSantis — who pushed the Legislature to enact the program this year — visited Cape Coral to hand out some of the first checks.
DeSantis said it was part of his effort to help recruit and retain officers, but also to boost morale and ensure cops know the state supports them after the “Floyd riots” — as he referred to the protests after the Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd, a Black man, in 2020 — and some progressive activists and cities pushed to cut police budgets.
“We are going to move heaven and earth to make sure this state remains a law and order state,” DeSantis said at an event at a Cape Coral police station. “We’re not going to let them take it away from us.”
Officers who leave another state to come to Florida, or native Floridians who become police officers for the first time, are eligible for the bonuses. The law (HB 3) also placed a requirement of maintaining employment in the law enforcement profession in the state for at least two years or the officer would have to pay the money back, but the clawback provision only applies if the officer is discharged for misconduct.
DeSantis handed out six checks Friday, but said 335 more are on the way across the state. For some new officers who live in areas hardest-hit by Hurricane Ian, the checks might be delayed. Those sent to Sanibel, for instance, might have to be canceled and re-sent, he said.
One of the recipients was Officer Mercedes Phillips, who was lured to the Cape Coral Police Department by the $5,000 bonus after serving as an officer for three years in Maryland, where Republican Larry Hogan has been Governor since 2015.
“From my firsthand experience, there’s been a lot of officers that were alienated and underappreciated in that area of the country. I knew moving to Florida I would be valued and appreciated by my department and citizens and coworkers,” Phillips said. “All that support from the top feeds down to departments like ours and gives us the motivation and support to make our community that much better.”
The checks will be more than $6,000, though, to ensure at least $5,000 goes into new cops’ pockets after taxes.
“We don’t want those armed IRS agents coming after them, so that check is over $6,000 so they can pay their taxes,” Dane Eagle, Secretary of the Department of Economic Opportunity, which is administering the program, said.
According to a staff analysis of HB 3, Florida has averaged 2,711 new police officers each year the last five years. Based on that figure, the state expects to pay $13.6 million in bonuses, but that calculation was based on $5,000 payments, not the more than $6,000 payments that are being sent.