$5K bonuses for police recruits, part of pro-cop agenda, advance in Legislature

FL would become the ‘most law enforcement-friendly state’

By: - January 18, 2022 5:16 pm

Republican state Rep. Tom Leek. Credit: FL House of Representatives

A key plank in Gov. Ron DeSantis pro-cop, election-year agenda sailed through its first committee test in the Florida House on Tuesday, when only a single Democrat voted no.

The measure (HB 3), calls for $5,000 signing bonuses for people who join state or local law enforcement agencies, whether transferring from police jobs in other states or entering the profession for the first time, plus additional bonuses and benefits for cops.

When DeSantis first suggested the idea in October, some critics warned he wanted to reward cops fleeing workplace vaccine mandates in other states. He’s up for reelection this year and possibly eyeing a run for president in 2024.

The governor disavowed that intent at the time, insisting the idea was to succor officers who feel they are being “mistreated” in their existing jobs. But he has pointed to what he characterizes as poor treatment of police in cities including Portland and Minneapolis during and following Black Lives Matter protests of 2020.

Bill sponsor Tom Leek of Volusia County said the bill would help meet the governor’s goal of establishing Florida as the “most law enforcement-friendly state.”

Nobody in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety even raised that topic during the less than 15 minutes the panel devoted to the legislation. The vote was 13-1, with Democrat Geraldine Thompson of Orange County the “no” vote.

“I think it means it has a good chance of passage,” Leek said following the vote.

Members did lament that the bill does nothing for corrections officers, who are massively understaffed and rank among the lowest-paid in the country. DeSantis has proposed pay increases for them separately.

Others questioned the bill’s financial incentives to officers who adopt kids out of the foster system, especially those with special needs. Bonuses would run to $25,000 for officers who adopt children from within the child welfare system with special needs and $5,000 for kids without special needs.

Republican John Snyder, representing parts of Martin and Palm Beach counties, replied that one of his childhood friends had been adopted by an officer who’d responded to his father’s murder of his mother and subsequent suicide.

“I think it fits right in with, really, what we’re trying to do in the state of Florida, is let our law enforcement officers know we’ve got their back,” Snyder said.

The bonuses apply to certified law enforcement officers who joined state or local police agencies after July 1, either by transferring from out of state or entering the profession for the first time. They’ll need to remain employed for two years — otherwise, they’ll be required to repay the bonus money.

“The required 2-year employment period may be satisfied by maintaining employment at one or more employing agencies, but such period must not contain any break in service longer than 15 calendar days,” the bill says.

“Reimbursement shall not be required if an officer is discharged by his or her employing agency for a reason other than misconduct as designated on the affidavit of separation completed by the employing agency and maintained by the commission.”

The bill suggests these bonuses may not be guaranteed in full. “Bonus payments provided to eligible newly employed officers are contingent upon legislative appropriations and shall be prorated subject to the amount appropriated for the program,” it says.

The bill is a bit of a pro-cop grab bag. For example, it declares May 1 “Law Enforcement Appreciation Day.” U.S. labor unions have designated that date for International Workers’ Day since the late 19th Century, although Congress coopted the celebration as Law Day during the Eisenhower administration, hoping to counterbalance its socialist associations.

The bill says law enforcement academies would have to instruct recruits in “health and wellness” principles designed to help them cope with the job’s unique stresses.

School districts would be required to operate at least one 911-operator training program for high school students and encouraged to create law enforcement Explorer programs to promote careers in policing. Additionally, cops could earn college credit for on-the-job training programs.

The bill creates a Florida Law Enforcement Academy Scholarship Program “to assist in the recruitment of law enforcement officers within the state by providing financial assistance to trainees who enroll in a commission-approved law enforcement officer basic recruit training program” by paying tuition and fees, plus $1,000 for textbooks, uniforms, ammunition, and other expenses.

There are additional $1,000 payments for out-of-state officers taking courses to learn Florida professional standards.

The bill would raise base pay for Florida sheriffs by $5,000. Finally, it would exempt veterans and associate degree holders from the basic skills tests required of police academy recruits.

Democrat Andrew Learned of Hillsborough County worried that military veterans might be too gung-ho for police work absent the proper training. He recalled his U.S. Navy days when he was responsible for ship defense. In the event of a breach, “Our procedure was two in the chest, one in the head, cuff ‘em, and then start figuring out what had happened,” he said.

“I want to make to make sure I’m putting my head, you know, in the mindset of one of my 18-year-old guys who’s transitioning out of the military back into law enforcement, make sure they’re given the proper training so they can be successful in this transition,” Learner said.

Leek replied that the prospective officers at issue would be older and would still undergo academy training.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.