Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signing bonus plan for new local police recruits will help grow applicant pools but law enforcement agencies face other challenges in hiring and retaining officers, according to Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent.
DeSantis unveiled a $400 million plan Monday, Nov. 29, that would raise the pay for state police, offer $5,000 signing bonuses for local police recruits and waive certification exam and other fees for other new officers.
Vincent said the state plan will potentially help with overall officer recruitment, but not with some of the wider issues of pay at the local level.
“If these benefits are applied universally throughout the state, it will likely increase the pool of applicants, which will certainly help. However, it will do nothing to make us more competitive in our job market. Much of our recent turnover is due to officers leaving to work for local agencies with higher pay or better benefits,” Vincent said.
Gulfport Police officers earn between $22.50 per hour and $33.08 per hour, Vincent said. That translates to between $49,140 to $72,247 per year for full-time work. Gulfport officers work a 42-hour work week.
The Gulfport chief said the department has four of its 32 sworn officer positions currently vacant.
The challenge for some smaller local agencies – in Florida and across the country – is that they don’t pay as well as other departments, so they often see their current and prospective officers take higher-paying positions.
St. Petersburg Police’s pay for officers ranges between $27.89 per hour ($58,016 per year) to $45.11 per hour ($93,832 per year).
The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office – which provides police services for all unincorporated parts of Pinellas, as well as smaller cities, including Madeira Beach, South Pasadena and St. Pete Beach – offers starting pay for new recruits at $39,220 per year and deputies can earn between $51,728 and $80,287, depending on experience and duties, according to job postings.
DeSantis’ plan would put $73 million toward raising state police officers’ pay by 20% to 25% and another $135 million to up base compensation for correctional officers. State troopers’ pay currently starts at $41,918 per year after graduating from the police academy. State police who live and work in Pinellas County currently have starting pay of $46,917 per year.
At the local level, the governor’s push calls for $5,000 signing bonuses for police recruits, waiving state certification and training fees for officers relocating to Florida as well as $1,000 annual bonuses for paramedics, law enforcement, emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and firefighters.
DeSantis has also offered $5,000 bonuses for police officers who want to relocate to Florida from other states. Earlier this year, the state also approved $1,000 “pandemic bonuses” for first responders statewide.
The Florida Legislature will vote on bonuses and higher pay, the governor said.