Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Community Officers Get Warning; THEY'RE LIKELY LAID OFF Sheriff Says He Has No Choice Unless City Can Find Funds

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Community Officers Get Warning; THEY'RE LIKELY LAID OFF Sheriff Says He Has No Choice Unless City Can Find Funds

Article excerpt

Byline: DANA TREEN

Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford told his force of community service officers Wednesday they will collect their last paychecks Oct. 16 and turn in their florescent uniform shirts unless the city finds the money to keep the program alive.

"I know there is a lot of angst out there with what is going on with this budget," he told roughly 70 of the non-certified officers gathered to hear their boss at the police union lodge.

But the sheriff said he would have no choice but to sacrifice the $3.3 million program to write a balanced budget.

"If we're going back to basics, I have to have guns and badges that can put people in jail," he said. "I don't think this is in the best interest of the city, but I don't set the budget."

Rutherford said the city wants him to keep the program open in the belief that money can be found later to meet the payroll and pay its other costs. He said state law doesn't allow him to write a budget that isn't balanced.

"I can't and won't do that," he said. "I can't overspend my budget. I legally can't overspend my budget."

The program that started in 2004 was designed to put a force on the street that had the training to respond to wrecks, conduct some interviews and provide duties such as traffic control, though its officers weren't fully certified. Members have a five-year window to work in the program and prepare for the police academy.

The beginning salary for unit members is $25,500.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has 92 community service officer slots, all of which will be eliminated. Currently, 17 are in police academy training and there are eight unfilled vacancies, Director Micheal Edwards said. The officers in the program responded to more than 33,000 calls in 2008 that otherwise would have required a certified officer, he said.

Cutting the program is a hot-button issue in a tense relationship between the sheriff and the City Council over next year's budget, which goes into effect Oct. …

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