By Coastal Breeze News Staff
“We have the same size force [33 officers], that we’ve had since the mid 2000’s,” explains Assistant Chief Dave Baer. Baer points out that the number refers to all law enforcement staff, not 33 patrol officers available for street deployment at the same time. “Right now, we’re responding to things ‘as needed,’ more reactive than proactive.”
A shift’s duties can be broken down into several basic categories: calls for service, emergency response and investigative work, such as locating individuals with outstanding warrants. According to Baer, key investigative work is taking a backseat.
“Think about it: if a shift makes an arrest, that’s at least a 30 minute drive to the jail, plus processing time. That can be two or three hours of one or two guys’ time.”
Council Chairman Larry Magel believed Hunter made a “compelling case” for more personnel, referencing the department’s current passive approach to following up on suspected criminal activity. “As of today I believe there are 78 outstanding warrants…I’m prepared to give him [Hunter] a year to prove it to me.”
Last year the department spent approximately $90,000 in overtime to officers to make up for gaps in service, according to Baer, who adds that the 2013 overtime budget was scaled back to about $60,000. According to the budget posted on the city website, the total police budget increased $104,990.
Chief Hunter’s vision for the department would include a ‘flexible operations group,’ available for both street and plainclothes patrol. Hunter’s goal is to ensure that the force is engaged in both response and investigative work at all times. The flexible operations group would be staffed by three officers, bringing the total force to 36.
In addition to proactively serving outstanding warrants, Hunter would like to see more active monitoring of known career criminals and sexual offenders, both resident and transient. “We do have gang members coming here from Miami and [since the re-organization], we have made contact with individuals,” says Baer.
The proposed three additional officers would cost approximately $45,000 per officer, plus benefits, or about $135,000 per year. Chief Hunter’s contract, which renewed in August, compensates him at $110,000 this year and $115,000 in 2013. The city also provides Hunter with fully paid medical and dental benefits for him and his family, a vehicle available for 24 -hour use and a mobile phone, according to the contract.
“People are our biggest asset,” points out Baer. “And this will allow the agency to do more. I firmly believe it [the flexible operations group] will make the community safer.”