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Police recruiters work to fill every sworn position

Law enforcement veterans say Sarasota is an easy sell when recruiting officers for the SPD.

The newest officers of the Sarasota Police Department during a swearing-in ceremony in April 2024.
The newest officers of the Sarasota Police Department during a swearing-in ceremony in April 2024.
Photo by Andrew Warfield
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Enrique Nazario and Jack Carter like working at the Sarasota Police Department so much that both came out of retirement to draw more officers there.

It isn't a difficult sell, they say. Their job is more about selecting the right candidates than about finding them thanks to the reputation of Florida as a law enforcement-supporting state and the appeal of Sarasota in particular.

Retired military with lengthy second careers in law enforcement, the two of them know well the characteristics they seek in recruits.

Nazario is a retired Lt. Colonel of the U.S. Army who served on active duty and in the reserves for 32 years. He has also been a federal corrections officer, a trooper for the Indiana State Police and served 22 years at the Orlando Police Department, where he was also a recruiter. He came out of retirement and joined the Sarasota Police Department in 2020 as a recruiter and background investigator.

Carter is a retired Lt. Colonel of the U.S. Marine Corps who joined SPD as a police officer in 1999, retiring as a white-collar crime detective in 2013. He then moved on to the Florida Department of Veteran Affairs as a claims specialist and designated representative for veterans before the Board of Veteran Appeals, and was also a member of the Women’s Advisory Committee for the Veteran’s Administration.

He returned to SPD in 2017 as a recruiter and background investigator.

Both of them specializing in attracting ex-military personnel, Carter and Nazario first crossed paths at a recruiting event at MacDill Air Force Base.

Nazario said finding candidates who want to come to Sarasota is easy. They want to come here for the same reasons he did.

“People come here because they liked the climate and how the state is when it comes to supporting law enforcement,” Nazario said. “And then of course, who doesn’t like Sarasota?”

Of 190 available sworn officer positions, 184 are filled, putting SPD in an enviable position over many other agencies with whom the pair compete. With so few open positions, low attrition and only a handful of retirements each year, the recruiters have the comparative luxury of strategically selecting the ideal skill set for prospective new officers.

“There are agencies, even in Florida, that are 40 officers down or, 60 deputies down, so we get to be choosy,” Nazario said.

A 14-month journey

From initial interview to swearing in, the process of bringing a recruit to SPD takes more than a year. First is an initial background interview that can occur by phone or, for locals, in person. From there, desirable candidates are instructed to apply via the city’s website, after which they are vetted by city staff to ensure they meet minimum qualifications.

“Then it comes to us,” Carter said.

The next step is a comprehensive application with a third-party vendor and a waiver that allows SPD to begin a background investigation. That is followed by a physical agility test and an appearance before an oral board, which will determine whether a recruit can continue the process.

Those who move on then undergo medical testing, a polygraph and a psychological evaluation, ultimately leading to an interview with Police Chief Rex Troche who decides whether to extend a conditional offer of employment.

Jack Carter (left) and Enrique Nazario lead the officer recruiting efforts of the Sarasota Police Department.
Photo by Andrew Warfield

“The process used to take 180 days on average, but we’ve got it down to just under 120 days,” Carter said. “That’s just because we know what we’re doing and we have great vendors and municipal employees who support us.”

The next step is five months in police academy — 770 hours of classroom time — at either Sarasota Technical College, Manatee Technical College or Pinellas Technical College. Then comes another 10 weeks of in-house training.

“Even though they've already qualified with weapons and they've already done the driving, we do it again here at our standards,” Nazario said.

Finally, they reach the swearing-in ceremony when badges are pinned to their new uniforms, but they’re still not ready to go solo on the streets. 

“After that they go to field training with their new partner, a field training officer, who is evaluating them and training them, and that takes anywhere from three to four months, depending on their level of experience,” Nazario said. “If they came with prior experience, hopefully they'll do it a lot quicker than someone who's just coming out of the academy.”

All told, that's more than 14 months to make a new officer at the Sarasota Police Department.

The cost? That’s nearly $218,000, including a first-year salary of $61,000, benefits, training, service weapon, uniforms and a fresh patrol vehicle — which as an additional benefit they take home provided they live within a 50-mile radius.

Strategic hiring

Some years are busier than others. Recruiting classes have been as large as 27 — that one was in 2022 after the department was granted 10 additional sworn officer positions.

“We were short about 28 officers on the road that we needed to make up that gap,” Carter said. When he returned to the SPD in 2017, the department hired 17 officers. In April 2024, it welcomed nine new officers, one of them returning to SPD from out of state.

“I came back as the military recruiter, and we started going out and doing career fairs at military installations at Camp Lejeune, at Fort Stewart in Georgia and pretty much anywhere we could,” Carter said. “We did a lot at MacDill to get veterans here on the force, and now we have 30 veterans."

That is central to the diversity of skill sets the recruiters seek when reviewing applications. Each class is ideally a combination of relocating experienced officers and rookies, and within that mix of aptitudes and gender.

“We like to say we do strategic hires,” Carter said. “We’ve got somebody who has a master's degree in forensic psychology, somebody who’s got Child Protection experience before they came there. A.J., who runs our motor section here was the keeper of all SWAT gear at the Syracuse Police Department. He was a strategic hire. 

“We've got almost 20% females here. The national average is 12%, and we have a real strong belief that these women bring something special to law enforcement, and all of that helps with every kind of call you can get.”

Always on call

Carter and Nazario don’t have desk phones, which makes them available for inquiries from potential prospects on their cellphones 24/7. Very often, those calls are from out of state. Carter said a recent contact came from a northeastern state, the officer explaining he was looking for a warmer climate. Another came from the Florida Keys, that officer saying he was looking to do more with his career than write traffic citations.

Then there was a call from a female officer in San Diego. 

“She went to Cardinal Mooney High School and wants to come home to the community she grew up in,” Carter said.

Recruits from out of state — experienced or rookies — are eligible for the Florida Law Enforcement Recruitment Bonus Payment Program, which pays $5,000 after taxes to officers, who have not previously worked in law enforcement in the state, after two years of service. Even without the incentive, they likely be calling anyway.

“They're pretty much coming to us, and they are experienced officers who see that Florida is very pro-law enforcement and they like that because who wants to work with their hands tied?” Nazario said. “Most of the seasoned ones are coming from out of state.”

Those officers often skip the academy because Florida offers an equivalency training program in which they take a four-day course offered by a local academy and, if they pass the test, become certified, bypassing five months of academy training.

First, though, all of them must pass the Carter-Nazario test.

“We're both military veterans plus police veterans. We know what it takes to do the job, so what we look at is life experience,” Carter said. “if you've gone to high school and you've gone to college and that's the extent of what you've done, you’re not a premier candidate.

"And then we take it a step further because we want maturity.”

That means, although eligible to do the job at age 21, SPD’s ideal youngest recruit is 25. 

“We look at age and life experience, but we also look at their communication skills,” Carter said. “We tell them right up front we want people who can sit here and look you in the eye and have a conversation with you. 

"First and foremost we're looking for problem solvers.”

For the time being at least, six more problem solvers will do.



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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