ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s a tough job, that’s getting tougher to fill.
“We are all competing to hire the best and most qualified individuals,” said Chief Orlando Rolon, of the Orlando Police Department.
Social unrest, negative headlines, COVID-19: those are just some of the things local sheriffs and chiefs listed when News 6 asked them about recruitment troubles.
“I think it has affected our ability to hire more African Americans,” Rolon told News 6, in a one-on-one interview. “I think the social unrest, period, took a toll. Even family members were not encouraging others to join the profession.”
In Flagler County, the sentiment is the same.
“Absolutely, that has had an impact,” Sheriff Rick Staly told News 6. “The academy classes have significantly fewer trainees than we have seen prior to all this unrest.”
“I’ve had guys go to power companies, because they do not have to deal with being on the frontlines of COVID,” said Deputy Chief Chris Haworth, with the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office. “They do not have to deal with people not liking them. They do not have to deal with the potential of going out there and (making) an honest mistake.”
News 6 polled some of our largest, local law enforcement agencies and found, since 2019, applications for sworn positions have decreased for some agencies by roughly 20 to 50%. (See infogram below, or click here.)
On top of that, some departments are losing more deputies than they can hire.
“Where I have lost deputies, it is to agencies that are paying significantly more,” Staly said.
In Sumter County, there is a different trend.
“We are losing a lot more people to other industries than we are losing it to other agencies,” Haworth said.
In response to the News 6 poll, sheriffs’ offices in Brevard, Seminole and Marion counties reported losing more deputies than they hired back, over a three-year period.
All local departments told us that any officer or deputy deficiency has not affected public safety, but they admitted the smaller applicant pool has forced them to recruit aggressively and creatively.
For example, the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office formed its own deputy training academy this year to help fill 80 openings. Thanks to a recent graduation of recruits earlier this week, those openings are now down to 30 positions.
In Orlando, the police department produced an Emmy-winning recruitment video.
“It has helped, in my opinion, to draw more people to apply,” Rolon said.
In Marion County, a spokesperson told News 6 sheriff recruiters will soon fly to New York City to try and poach some of NYPD’s finest. News 6 found they weren’t the only agency looking out of state.
“We have been as far west as Texas, just trying to recruit the most qualified applicants,” Orange County Sheriff John Mina told News 6 investigator Merris Badcock.
Mina opened his applicant pool by getting rid of a swim test. The sheriff also reduced the minimum education requirement to a high school diploma or GED equivalent.
Those tactics should help Mina fill the 10% of sworn positions currently vacant in his office.
“Just like across the nation, of course, we have vacancies, but … over the past three or four years, we have added an additional 200 deputies,” he said.
Mina told News 6 many of the current vacancies include those newly added positions.
Orange County is not without company. Flagler County is also facing a 10% vacancy rate.
“On paper, we have a 10% vacancy rate, but these are all new positions,” Staly explained. “On Oct. 1, the Board of County Commissioners and the City of Palm Coast authorized 26 additional deputy sheriffs. We have already hired about five of those positions.”
Sheriffs and chiefs say these positions will still attract those who have a passion for serving, despite media headlines or public comments that suggest now is a tough time to be a cop.
“I have been hearing that a lot from the media, from the public, but what I see is people who generally want to be involved in law enforcement,” Mina said. “You know, the best way to affect change is from within.”