Disney World law enforcement spending increases

Reedy Creek cities to spend $15.8 million on outside deputies

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – For the second year in a row, the municipalities that provide governmental services to Walt Disney World’s property have approved a multi-million dollar spending increase to hire Orange County sheriff’s deputies.

The Disney-controlled cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, which are contained within the Reedy Creek Improvement District, have budgeted $15.8 million dollars for outside law enforcement in the fiscal year that began October 1.

The Reedy Creek cities’ 2018 public safety budget more than doubles the $7 million that was allocated for deputies annually from 2011 through 2015.

Following the terrorist attack at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in June 2016, the cities hiked its law enforcement budget to $13.7 million.

Months later, the cities’ boards approved an additional $1.4 in funding for deputies, records show.

[READ: Reedy Creek's public safety budget]

Under the new budget, the Reedy Creek cities will now pay the Orange County Sheriff’s Office more than the City of Winter Park spends on its entire police department.

For security reasons, Walt Disney World representatives and Orange County Sheriff's officials do not disclose the specific number of deputies who patrol the resort at any given time.

But the increased spending suggests Walt Disney World is continuing to expand the presence of law enforcement officers at the same time concerns about domestic and international terrorism grow.

"We have a comprehensive approach to security that includes measures that are visible and some that are not," said Jacquee Wahler, Walt Disney World's vice president of communications. "We continuously review and adapt security procedures in coordination with law enforcement officials, but do not discuss specifics in order to avoid compromising their effectiveness."

The Reedy Creek cities’ public safety budget was finalized less than two weeks before a gunman opened fire from a Las Vegas resort hotel, killing at least 58 people and injuring more than 500 who were attending a concert across the street.

Earlier this year, federal prosecutors revealed that the Pulse nightclub gunman Omar Mateen had allegedly discussed with his wife the possibility of attacking Walt Disney World.

"What would make people more upset, an attack at Downtown Disney or at a nightclub?” Mateen is said to have asked Salman, according to prosecutors.

Salman is awaiting trial on charges of aiding a terrorist organization.

With the additional law enforcement spending, Disney World visitors are now more likely than ever to encounter armed sheriff's deputies standing outside ticket booths, walking around inside the theme parks and hotels, or driving around the resort's property in marked and undercover patrol cars.

The Reedy Creek cities hire nearly 70 deputies, detectives, supervisors and administrative staff as part of an $8.3 million annual contract with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. The agreement also covers the cost of vehicles, uniforms, weapons and other county-owned equipment.

The law enforcement agency’s contract with Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake will likely be amended during the current fiscal year to reflect a new salary structure for deputies, according a Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

Details of that proposed contract addendum have not been finalized.

Besides those on-duty law enforcement officers provided under the sheriff’s office contract, the Reedy Creek cities will hire an undisclosed number of additional off-duty deputies at a cost of more than $7 million, records show.

The Walt Disney Company independently hires even more off-duty deputies to supplement those brought in by the Reedy Creek cities. But unlike the municpalities’ budgets, which are public record, Disney is not required to disclose its spending on law enforcement.

Disney and the Reedy Creek cities pay $40 per hour for each off-duty deputy, according to the Sheriff’s Office. That’s $10 more than the $30 minimum hourly rate required by the deputies’ union contract.

All organizations that hire off-duty deputies must also pay an additional $5 per hour fee to the Sheriff’s Office to cover the costs of equipment.

Some Disney World visitors feel the presence of law enforcement injects a bit too much reality into the resort's crafted fantasy world.

"It's a little bit concerning that they think they need that much security. You're walking around and you see the cops and wonder, 'Why are there so many cops?'" said Geavin Channels, a frequent park-goer from Ocala. "It gives you that brief moment of anxiety."

But others, like Aimee Olmedo, try not to let security concerns distract them from their vacations.

“I don’t think about those type of incidents,” said Olmedo, who was visiting the resort from Phoenix with her family. “I think (the law enforcement presence) is great if it makes people feel safe.”

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.