When residents of St. Pete Beach voted to close their Police Department last month, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri offered all the city's police officers jobs. He assumed a majority would cross over.
He was right.
Of the 24 officers currently working for St. Pete Beach, several decided to retire. But most will work for the sheriff. Three officers have asked to become bailiffs, Gualtieri said, the remainder will be offered jobs doing patrol duty.
The Police Department's two highest ranking employees turned down the sheriff's offer. Capt. Dean Horianopoulos has taken a job with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, where he is a special agent in the Tampa field office.
Police Chief David Romine said he is still deciding what to do next.
"The sheriff offered me a position as a patrol deputy or a court bailiff," he wrote in an email. "I have declined those positions."
Romine came to the department 10 years ago when there were 31 sworn officers and a mess of internal conflicts dividing the staff. Now in his 60s, he has technically retired, though he continues to work. Becoming a bailiff or patrol deputy would mean taking a pay cut.
Incoming officers will make their current salaries, Gualtieri said, but with a cap of $67,000. Of the city's 24 officers, he said, 10 have a year or less of experience, meaning they are unlikely to be affected by the cap.
Along with personnel, there's a fair amount of property to transfer before 7 a.m. on Jan. 6, when responsibility for law enforcement officially switches to the Sheriff's Office. As part of its $1.5 million contract with the city, the Sheriff's Office is taking possession of the Police Department's boat, speed trailer, and its SUVs, along with all of its open investigations and internal affairs files.
"The goal is on the morning of Jan. 6th, there'll be nothing to do but take possession of the two or three cars that work the last midnight shift down there," Gualtieri said.
The St. Pete Beach police officers who switch over to the Sheriff's Office will not return to their old beats. After a six-week orientation course, they will be stationed in other cities that contract with the sheriff, or in unincorporated areas of the county. The 14 sheriff's deputies, five sergeants, one detective, and one community policing deputy who will oversee St. Pete Beach have already been selected, he said.
St. Pete Beach City Manager Mike Bonfield estimates that shuttering the department — which 58 percent of the city's voters supported — will save about $1.3 million a year.
Critics of the transfer have questioned whether any amount of savings will be worth the loss of a local police force, one whose officers many residents know by name.
But supporters, including many of the officers themselves, have argued that the city can no longer afford its own force. Before voters approved closing the department, the City Commission and police union already had agreed to a less generous pension plan that would require officers to work 30 years before retiring, up from 25.
The changes led officers who would have otherwise preferred to stay in the small beach city to start to look elsewhere, and some were already considering seeking jobs with the sheriff.
Anna M. Phillips can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779.