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Florida’s governor was the latest to propose such a perk, as law enforcement agencies across the country struggle to find and keep officers.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed a hefty signing bonus for new police officers in a bid to recruit more law enforcement in the state.
The bonuses would provide a one-time payment of $5,000 to law enforcement officers who are new to the state, DeSantis said Wednesday as he announced his police-related legislative priorities for the coming year.
The announcement comes as police departments across the country are having difficulty recruiting the number of officers they need to fill vacant positions.
Workforce recruitment and retention was already a challenge for local law enforcement agencies before the pandemic. But anger over police killings of Black Americans intensified after high profile incidents last summer, leading to widespread calls for local governments to defund police departments and allocate more resources toward social services. The stress of working on the front lines of the pandemic coupled with anti-police sentiment has taken its toll on officer morale.
DeSantis, a Republican, said the signing bonuses were one way the state could show its support for police.
“As so many cities and states choose to disrespect, degrade and defund the honorable work of law enforcement, we want Florida to continue valuing our men and women of law enforcement,” DeSantis said in a statement.
Republicans are seizing on law enforcement issues and emphasizing their support for police as a way to distinguish themselves from Democrats ahead of upcoming elections. The strategy comes after some Democrats embraced the idea of reducing police budgets and as violent crime is up in some cities.
In Florida, the bonuses would only be available to those who have not previously worked as sworn law enforcement officers, corrections or institutional security officers in the state. The funds would be required to be repaid if a new officer leaves their role before completing one year on the job.
The proposal would have to be approved by the state legislature and it was unclear how the initiative would be paid for.
Other state and local governments that have announced similar bonus initiatives to attract and retain law enforcement have dipped into federal aid to pay for the measures.
In July, Idaho issued $1,000 hazard pay bonuses to the 360 officers and regional communications center staff who work for the state police. The bonuses were paid for with money the state received from the 2020 pandemic relief law known as the CARES Act.
“While other places seek to ‘defund the police,’ here in Idaho we are defending the police,” said Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, as he announced the initiative.
Virginia lawmakers this month approved a state budget plan that would use federal funding allocated through the American Rescue Plan Act to cover bonuses for state police and corrections officers. State police officers would receive $5,000 bonuses and state-supported sheriffs’ deputies and corrections officers would receive $3,000 bonuses. The Virginia State Police has more than 300 vacancies out of some 2,100 positions and starting pay for new officers is about $48,000.
Dozens of localities across the country have doled out hazard pay and bonuses to public employees using ARPA money.
Aside from offering more money, law enforcement agencies are also starting new recruitment programs to help fill the gap.
Ohio launched a partnership this year with state universities to attract more young people to the profession. The program, which will begin as a pilot at two universities this fall, is open to upper-class criminal justice majors. The students will be paired with law enforcement mentors who will help them develop leadership skills. Upon graduation, the participating students are guaranteed a job with one of 12 participating law enforcement agencies in the state.
Andrea Noble is a staff correspondent with Route Fifty.