Tampa police laid off 27 police recruits Friday in an unprecedented move that officials expect will save about $600,000 during the next year. "We are very saddened we had to do this," said Deputy Police Chief Curtis Lane. "But we are in a budget crunch."
The layoffs are the first in Police Department history and the first among city agencies, which are being asked to prepare for the city's projected $15-million budget deficit next year.
"I thought working for the city would be some kind of security," said Ted Maczuga, 30, of New Port Richey. He quit a 10-year job as a foreman for an electrical company at Tampa International Airport to work for the police. Now he will have to hit the streets looking for work.
Twenty-two of the recruits had completed their training, at a cost to the city of about $110,000, and were waiting for jobs to open up. Maczuga and another three were about halfway through their 20-week program at the academy, and one was in a remedial training program at a technical school.
None of the recruits had been assigned to patrol. Police officials said the layoffs, which take effect in two weeks, will not affect service. A hiring freeze is now in effect.
Whether the department will have to lay off more employees is still in question, Lane said.
So are the futures of the 27 recruits, many of whom uprooted their families on short notice and quit steady jobs to begin the training program. Some took a major cut in pay with the promise of better chances for promotion and warmer weather.
The recruits still in the academy will be given the chance to complete their training without pay so that they can get accreditation, said Johnny Perkins, who heads the academy.
Many of the former recruits said they feel betrayed.
They felt that they were assured of jobs if they successfully completed the academy.
Charles R. Stewart, 25, remembers asking a police official (he cannot remember whom) in January whether they might be laid off after they graduated from the academy. He was told all the recruits who made it through would have jobs with the department.
"Nothing they've said has actually happened," said Stewart, who quit a $35,000 job with the East Providence, R.I., Police Department to come to Tampa. He said he was willing to live on the $19,656 recruit's salary just for the chance to work at a larger department and have a better chance for promotion.
Lane said the recruits weren't promised jobs, only spots in the academy.
Police weren't sure how Friday's layoffs would affect next year's budget plan to save $2.8-million in the Police Department. That plan called for 48 police positions to be eliminated.
John Dunn, spokesman for Mayor Sandy Freedman, said money saved by the layoffs will be used to offset whatever cost-cutting may be required for next year. Next year's budget plan won't be complete until mid-August and final figures won't be available until then, Dunn said. The mayor has not ruled out more layoffs, he said.
Among the laidoff recruits were two women, two blacks and six Hispanics. The Tampa Police Department has been trying to increase the number of women and minorities for years.
During a meeting at the Police Department on Friday morning, officials counseled the recruits.
"We tell these people they were selected because they are the best of the best," Lane said.
Officials also told the recruits they would be given no preferential treatment if they chose to reapply with the department. That is because they are considered temporary employees until they are sworn in, Dunn said.
Recruits aren't covered by the police union contract, police say.
"If we're so good, why don't they want us back?" said Ted Maczuga, one of the four men stranded in the middle of the training class.
Meanwhile, police officials were trying to help. The Orlando and Sarasota police departments are looking at recruits for jobs.
"I feel we'll get a job," said Louis L. Gorrasi, a former New York City police officer with five years' experience.