Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Vacant Police Officer Slots Needed to Combat Crime

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Vacant Police Officer Slots Needed to Combat Crime

Article excerpt

Byline: Ronald L. Littlepage

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Help is on the way.

At the beginning of this month, the Sheriff's Office had 116 vacancies for police officers.

With the city's murder rate climbing, that's the kind of statistic that gets your attention.

But Undersheriff Frank Mackesy told me in an interview this week that with a force of more than 1,600, the percentage of vacancies isn't that high. Also, he said, a training class for 40 recruits began Monday.

They will spend six-and-a-half months at the academy and another four-and-a-half months riding patrol with another officer before they will be ready to go it alone.

Mackesy said another class of 40 will begin about July 1. Those recruits will have already been certified after taking classes at Florida Community College at Jacksonville so their training time will be cut in half, Mackesy said.

The vacancy rate is a moving target with natural attrition and officers opting to take part in an early retirement program.

In all, Mackesy said, the department hopes to bring on 200 new officers during the next 14 months.

Although the first two classes are set, the ability to have additional classes won't be finalized until Sheriff John Rutherford and Mayor John Peyton agree on a new budget for the department.

A complicating factor in that is a budgetary device known as the lapse factor.

The lapse factor assumes there will be a certain number of vacancies during a budget year. The savings from the anticipated unused salaries is subtracted from the amount budgeted for payroll.

What that means is that while positions may be in the budget, there won't be enough money to meet payroll if they are all filled throughout the budget year.

In the case of the Sheriff's Office, that means in effect that you have police on paper but not on the street.

That's where we need them - on the street. The lapse factor has to be reasonable.

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Once those hurdles have been cleared, Mackesy said, negotiations will begin to develop a multi-year plan to increase the total number of police officers. …

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