VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. – Two bills targeting police units in unincorporated areas of counties are making their way through Florida’s Senate and House right now.
They would give a county’s sheriff’s office full power over those areas. In most Central Florida counties, deputies already provide that patrol but in Volusia, it would mean the end of the county’s Beach Patrol force.
There are currently 58 officers who make up Volusia’s Beach Patrol. They’re armed police officers, lifeguards, and medics that you often see riding around in big red trucks. County leaders are already planning for what would happen to those officers if these bills pass.
“What this bill would do, in my opinion, and no one likes change, is it would enhance policing services,” Sheriff Mike Chitwood said.
Chitwood is all for the change.
SB 1588 and HB 1595 would give sheriff’s offices control over unincorporated areas and wouldn’t allow other police units to exist there. They were created in Miami but 250 miles north in Volusia, it means the sheriff’s office would now be in charge of patrolling the beach.
“They’d be a force multiplier on the peninsula, which is what people would see,” Chitwood said.
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The sheriff said the beach would become another assigned area for deputies. He said he would take 35 of the 58 beach patrol officers onto his staff.
“They may not be assigned there. They’re going to go through our training, they’re going to cycle through the county, they’re going to work everywhere and then we’re going to determine what that group looks like,” he said.
He proposed those who didn’t want to become deputies could stay on Beach Safety staff as lifeguards and medics.
“Riding around in a truck with a gun on and you’re making car stops, or you’re doing stuff, you’re not diving into the ocean. We’re not taking all 58 so they’ll be able to fill their vacancies on the lifeguard stands,” he said.
This news hasn’t been well received by many Beach Patrol officers who couldn’t do an interview but expressed concerns to News 6.
News 6 reached out to the county for comment. A spokesperson sent a statement that says:
Chitwood said they’re still working on plans for pay and benefits but believed pay would stay the same no matter what choice the officers make and they wouldn’t lose their retirement.
As of right now, both bills are working through the legislative committees.
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