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East County Wednesday, Jun. 12, 2019 3 months ago

Manatee County Sheriff's presence set to expand

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New budget cycle brings Sheriff's Office closer to new Lakewood Ranch area patrol district.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Manatee County Sheriff Rick Wells might not have as many deputies as he would like on Manatee County’s roadways, but he’s getting closer to what he believes will be adequate.

Manatee County Administrator Cheri Coryea’s recommended 2020 fiscal year budget includes nearly $1 million in funding for 10 new deputies. If the budget is approved by the county commissioners, Wells plans to use many of those deputies to address growth in the Lakewood Ranch and Parrish areas.

“The areas of growth have not changed,” Wells said. “Once we’re 100% approved, we’ll see where the shortages are. Our primary goal is for calls for service.”

If commissioners approve the funds in September for another 10 positions in 2021, he should have enough deputies to split District 3 into two districts. District 3 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.

One new district would cover the area north of the Manatee River, while the other would focus south of the river mostly in the greater Lakewood Ranch area. Both areas are growing rapidly with nearly 1,500 new home sales in Lakewood Ranch alone in 2018. It was ranked No. 2 nationally as the fastest-selling master-planned community by the real estate consulting firm RCLCO.

“I think we need at least 10 more deputies to [form another] legitimate district,” Wells said. “We’ll see what happens.”

For the proposed 10 officers, Wells said he expects “the majority” of the 10 new deputies will go to District 3 to respond to calls for service. A few might be added to the traffic enforcement division, as well.

Florida Highway Patrol historically has handled roadway crashes, but the agency is understaffed, and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies are picking up many of the approximately 200 crashes per month, Wells said.

“That’s not our primary mission,” Wells said. “But you’ve got citizens waiting three to four hours, sometimes, waiting after a traffic crash for FHP to respond. We can’t have citizens waiting that long.”

He said those deputies would work to do more traffic enforcement, which also is lacking in District 3.

The budget allocations would also give the Sheriff’s Office his requests for four corrections officers, two school resource officers, a chemist, a crime-scene analyst and a crime-scene technician.

Wells had also requested positions such as a recruiter and a domestic violence deputy and detective that weren’t included in the suggested budget, but he wasn’t disappointed.

“I applaud the commission and the new county administrator,” he said. “There was some compromise that went into [Coryea’s] budget request.”

Manatee County District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said prioritizing funding for deputies should be high priority.

“With the growth we have seen and continue to see, it is imperative we make sure the Sheriff’s Office has the workforce it needs to protect and serve Manatee County,” Baugh said. “I continue to have residents who ask my why we do not support and give them funding. They want to see more deputies on the roads. They want to see more of a presence of law enforcement. This is a step in the right direction.”

Wells agreed. This is the third consecutive year commissioners are slated to provide funding for more deputies and would bring total deputies approved to 30 in three years.

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