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More than 4,000 new law enforcement recruits in Florida

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(The Center Square) – More than 4,000 police officers have moved to Florida or become new recruits through Florida’s law enforcement recruitment bonus program.

The program was first launched in April 2022 after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law allocating $125 million for bonuses to benefit local police officers, sheriff’s deputies, paramedics, EMTs and firefighters statewide.

DeSantis recently presented the 4,000th bonus check to Bay County Sheriff’s Deputy Matthew Belthrop, who relocated from Virginia to take advantage of the program.

New recruits have moved to Florida from all 50 states and two U.S. territories, DeSantis said. Nearly 10% of all new recruits, more than 340, have relocated from the Democratic led states of Illinois, California and New York. The majority are young Floridians who are new to law enforcement.

Each of the 4,000 new recruits receive a $5,000 bonus after taxes, bringing the total amount awarded through the program to more than $27 million.

Belthrop’s bonus check was for $6,693, including the federal taxes he would owe on the $5,000.

“As the Biden Border Crisis rages on and fentanyl continues to flow over our southern border, it is more important now than ever to support our law enforcement agencies with the funding and support they need to protect our communities,” DeSantis said when he presented Belthrop with his award check at the Florida Sheriff’s Association Conference.

DeSantis said when he was in southern California, police chiefs told him “‘all my police officers want to move to Florida.’” When he was in northern New Hampshire, residents said, “Florida was synonymous with law and order” and told him how much they love Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd.

Judd has been leading the charge on multi-agency task forces targeting human and drug smuggling, and warning about the dangers of the border crisis impacting his county and the state of Florida. He recently warned that “the silent problem” in America is “we don’t know how many terrorists have come into this country over that southern border that have not made any noise yet. But they’re coming here and they’re mustering and they’re planning for the next event and it’s going to occur.”

DeSantis said communities were struggling nationwide in jurisdictions whose politicians embraced defunding law enforcement and “soft on crime policies” like implementing no cash bail. In 2020, the Florida legislature passed protections against defunding law enforcement and began allocating funding to give law enforcement officers $1,000 bonuses for three consecutive years. In 2022, the recruitment program was created.

In addition to the $5,000 recruitment bonus, the program includes several initiatives to help those in law enforcement. One is the Florida Law Enforcement Academy Scholarship Program, which covers tuition, fees, and up to $1,000 of eligible education expenses for trainees enrolled in a law enforcement officer basic recruit training program.

It also offers a reimbursement program to pay for up to $1,000 of equivalency training costs for certified law enforcement officers who relocate to Florida or members of the special operations forces who become full-time law enforcement officers in Florida.

Law enforcement officers’ children may also be eligible to receive a Family Empowerment Scholarship to attend private schools through the program. Law enforcement officers who adopt children through the state’s child welfare system can also receive a $10,000 benefit per child or a $25,000 benefit for adopting a child with special needs.

“I think we’re better shaped than anywhere else because people are more likely to want to join [a law enforcement agency] in Florida,” DeSantis said. “A lot of the young people have been told that somehow this isn’t a good profession or what they see in the media so we were really wanting to push back against that” by implementing the program.

He also said the legislature is “doubling down on our commitment to this bonus program” and working to renew it again for the next fiscal year.

Florida is currently experiencing a 50-year crime low. Overall crime is down nearly 10% year-over-year; murder is down 14%; burglary is down 15%; robbery is down 17%.