Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Legislature turn cost-cutting attention to law enforcement

TALLAHASSEE — After eliminating thousands of rank-and-file jobs from the state work force, Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature are turning their cost-cutting attention to a more politically sensitive area: law enforcement.

A little-noticed bill the governor signed last month creates a task force on law enforcement consolidation — an idea likely to send shivers up the spines of police officers in a time of double-digit unemployment.

The legislation directs the task force to "evaluate any duplication of law enforcement functions," including training, legal services, cars, airplanes and the regional deployment of police officers.

The idea comes from Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, who says he was motivated by hearing that 11 state agencies have police officers, which he said is bound to create duplication.

"I thought it was a good idea to look at what consolidation could be done and maybe save the taxpayers a little money," Latvala said. "Let the chips fall where they may."

During the spring legislative session, a much more radical proposal surfaced. In informal talks, senators discussed whether sheriffs should be required to handle some duties now performed by the Florida Highway Patrol, which is understaffed, has long grappled with high turnover among troopers and is about to undergo a reorganization.

But sheriffs successfully killed the idea in its infancy.

Steve Casey, executive director of the Florida Sheriffs Association, said his group opposed it because of uncertainty over whether the state would provide money to sheriffs to do that work. "We'd have to lobby for contract funds," he said. "The FHP does that now."

Casey said his group thought a better idea would be to allow sheriffs to contract with Highway Patrol on a case-by-case basis for short-term needs such as adding traffic investigation support.

The sheriffs' longtime lobbyist, Frank Messersmith, said: "We did not advocate eliminating FHP, and if you ask any sheriff in the state, every one would say FHP has been unfairly criticized. They have been cut, over and over, personnel- and budget-wise."

Capt. Mark Welch, a Highway Patrol spokesman, said the patrol welcomes "anything that improves our operations and benefits the taxpayers."

But turf wars among police agencies are legendary, and reducing the level of police protection is fraught with political peril.

Among the agencies with officers serving various missions are state universities, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Attorney General, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and departments of Business and Professional Regulation, Transportation, and Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Latvala questioned why the agriculture agency needs its own police force to "patrol our forests," but the agency said those officers safeguard "world-class public lands."

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam strongly defended the need for his 266 "ag law" officers, whose "unique mission," he said, is to prevent pests and disease from threatening public health and to help pursue consumer complaints.

But Putnam said his agency and the Transportation Department have offices close to each other along Interstate 10 in North Florida, which he said was a "missed engineering opportunity" for consolidation by the state.

Gov. Scott, in a letter to statewide police agencies this week, urged the task force to get to work quickly.

"The task force must commence as quickly as possible to ensure ample time to conduct the meetings and workshops required," Scott wrote. "This task force provides an opportunity to chart a path for commonsense and cost-effective state law enforcement."

Members will include representatives from the sheriffs association, the Florida Police Chiefs Association and other statewide police agencies. The chairman is Julie Jones, executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, the parent agency of the Highway Patrol.

Times/Herald staff writers Katie Sanders and Janet Zink contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Legislature turn cost-cutting attention to law enforcement 06/29/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 10:05pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. FSU-Tulane coming to Amalie Arena in December

    Blogs

    Florida State basketball is coming to Tampa.

  2. Taylor Swift congratulates Russell Westbrook on MVP Award

    Blogs

  3. Strategic Property Partners launches website for Water Street Tampa

    Business

    Strategic Property Partners has launched its official website for Water Street Tampa, its 53-acre redevelopment project in downtown Tampa Tuesday.

    Strategic Property Partners on Tuesday announced the name of its new development: Water Street Tampa. [Photos courtesy of SPP]
  4. Is Mikhail Sergachev, who debuts with Lightning at Wednesday camp, ready for the NHL?

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — When defenseman Mikhail Sergachev was taken ninth overall by the Canadiens in the 2016 NHL draft, a horde of Montreal media surrounded him for his first news conference.

    Mikhail Sergachev takes a shot during warmups prior to a game between the Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes in October in Montreal. [Getty Images]
  5. ReliaQuest CEO Brian Murphy named sole Tampa Bay winner in EY state entrepreneur contest

    Business

    ReliaQuest founder and CEO Brian Murphy was named one of nine winners statewide and the only one from the Tampa Bay area in the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur Of The Year 2017 Florida Awards program. Murphy won in the IT security division after starting ReliaQuest in 2007. Five of the nine winners were from the Miami …

    Tampa's ReliaQuest founder and CEO Brian Murphy was named one of nine winners statewide and the only one from the Tampa Bay area in the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur Of The Year 2017 Florida Awards program. Murphy won in the IT security division after starting ReliaQuest in 2007.