Sheriff's Office will need time to train 10 new deputies financed by budget increase.
When Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells started the new fiscal year Oct. 1, he was armed with nearly $1 million more than last year to put deputies on Manatee County roadways.
Now the Sheriff’s Office is diligently working to hire and train 10 new deputies to help meet the demands from growth on the Sheriff’s Office, as well as to fill 10 positions lost through attrition.
“We are constantly recruiting and trying to fill vacancies,” Wells said. “The challenge is finding qualified people.”
With funding now in place, the Sheriff’s Office will continue recruiting candidates, and it might sponsor an academy, which would mean it would prescreen and hire a group of deputies and then pay for them to attend Manatee Technical College’s Law Enforcement Academy. Schooling costs about $5,000 per deputy, plus the new hires are paid to go through training.
Wells said such a program ensures academy graduates are employable and gives the Sheriff’s Office deputies immediately upon student graduation.
After deputies graduate and are hired by the Sheriff’s Office, they are first assigned to the Telephone Reporting Unit to get hands-on training that deals with the public and writes police reports.
Wells said that detail typically lasts one to four months or until there is a large enough group of new hires to begin 12 weeks of field training. Successful training then means deputies can be assigned for patrol or other duties.
Wells said that of the 10 new positions, at least one will be assigned to the traffic unit to help keep up with demand from roadway accidents and speed enforcement. He said Florida Highway Patrol isn’t properly staffed to respond to roadway accidents, and the Sheriff’s Office is now handling about 200 crashes per month, so residents aren’t waiting for two to three hours for a highway patrol officer to arrive on scene.
“We get a lot of traffic complaints,” Wells said. “We understand the issue. We are doing everything we can to respond to those complaints. Most of it is speeding. We’re picking up the slack for the Florida Highway Patrol. They’re so understaffed.”
He said he has not figured out placement for the other hires. However, he expects many will help in District 3, which spans from east of Interstate 75 from University Parkway to the Manatee River, as well as all unincorporated territory north of the river, including Parrish, Ellenton and Palmetto. It covers about 740 square miles.
Wells said he still wants to create a new unit to cover the greater Lakewood Ranch area, but it likely will take at least two more years, assuming the county continues to fund more deputy positions. The idea is to split up District 3 to separate the area north of the Manatee River from the greater Lakewood Ranch area south of the river. Wells said creating such a unit would take about $2.5 million.
“We’re going to need positions every year until we get caught up with this growth or until it slows down — I don’t see that happening anytime soon,” Wells said. “We still have deputies out there working that zone. We’re making it work.”
Wells said having a temporary substation at 14544 Arbor Green Trail, just east of Lorraine Corners shopping plaza, has benefited deputies and residents alike. Since it opened in January, the substation has provided deputies with a place to complete reports and other business without having to drive to a substation out of their patrol zone. Wells said that helps decrease response times and increases proactive patrols.
Residents have also had a convenient location at which to report crimes, he said.
Wells said it will be a year before at least some of the 10 new patrol deputies will be ready for the road, but the Sheriff’s Office is working to address the community’s needs as best it can.