Two of the positions will be allotted for additional patrol of Siesta Key.
A question often pondered at many local community association meetings is whether there is a large enough law enforcement presence in the community.
Sheriff Kurt Hoffman hopes to change that narrative in fiscal year 2022 by adding 14 employees to staff, two of whom will be new deputies for Siesta Key.
Six new personnel will be assigned to the 12th Judicial Circuit Court facilities at the R.L. Anderson Administration Center in Venice.
Five more positions will form a third tactical squad to handle neighborhood problems such as disputes, drug houses and trespassing. The final position will be filled by a school safety deputy, of which there are currently 13 stationed at charter and private schools.
Hoffman said the increase in personnel was necessary because since 2007, the county’s population has risen 19.25%, or about 72,000 residents.
At the same time, the department’s positions are down 3.4% since 2006. In that year, the department had 1,050 staff members. For 2022, it will total 1,014.
“That’s almost like having two additional cities added to our jurisdiction,” Hoffman said.
Community Affairs Director Kaitlyn Perez said that although crime is down throughout the county, calls for service are increasing. In 2020, the department’s communications center handled nearly 665,000 calls and is on track to surpass 700,000 this year.
The sheriff’s office is proposing a general fund budget of $132.9 million, an increase of 7.6% from fiscal year 2021. The enforcement division will see $77.4 million in dedicated revenue, about 58% of the overall budget.
The two deputies assigned to Siesta Key will help provide more universal coverage on the island, particularly as the more popular seasons roll around, Perez said.
Currently the department has deputies who rotate through day shift, evening shift and night shift on the key. They are assigned to both patrol the island and perform special operations when necessary.
The new deputies may rotate assignments based on the time of year, events on the key or holidays.
“(Our current deputies) do a phenomenal job, however, these two additional deputies are going to really supplement all three shifts,” Perez said. “You can think of them as an added resource that can deploy on specific assignment at any given time.”
That added resource translates into more coverage from a patrol standpoint, more attendance at community meetings and more overall crime prevention on the island, she said. But perhaps a key issue will be additional traffic help.
The results of the county’s last two Citizen Opinion Surveys showed that one of the top resident concerns is traffic. Hoffman said that since 2012, the Sheriff’s Office has handled about 75% of the crashes in the unincorporated areas of the county.
Hoffman said the new deputies would allow the department to be better equipped to handle those calls.
Additionally, he said that as popularity for the barrier island continues to grow and more visitors come to the key, it’s appropriate to add more positions specific to Siesta. The department may consider adding additional resources in years to come if the data show it is necessary.
“It’s a math problem,” Hoffman said. “There’s just a lot of folks going out to the key … so it’s appropriate to put some additional resources out there.”
Commissioner Christian Ziegler, who represents a portion of Siesta Key, said he’s glad the sheriff’s office listened to the residents. Ziegler said he’s frequently heard from residents who say that even though Siesta Key is the No. 1 tourist destination in the county, there are also residents there who need to feel safe.
“This is a great example about how local government should work,” Ziegler said. “The local residents there raised their hand and said they needed some additional resources.”
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