LAKELAND, Fla. - Governor Ron DeSantis announced his push for next year's legislative session to create a three-part incentive to help recruit law enforcement officers from across the country and keep young talent in the state.
During his Tuesday visit to the Lakeland Police Department, DeSantis said the purpose is to also show support for law enforcement officers.
"We’ve been 100% behind them, because we understand," DeSantis said during the press conference. "All the things we care about…if you don’t have safe communities, if you don’t have rule of law, a lot of that stuff really isn’t going to matter. It’s fundamental that we have safe communities, and you don’t have safe communities if you don’t support the men in uniform."
The proposed legislative package would include three programs:
- Offer a $5,000 signing bonus for any new law enforcement officer in Florida. That includes someone who is already a Floridian or someone moving from another state.
- Help fund financial roadblocks for out-of-state recruits, such as enrolling and completing a state certification program or training programs, by covering the cost of up to $1,000 per officer.
- Create a law enforcement academy scholarship to cover the cost of enrollment.
"We provide support and rightfully so for people going to our universities, why not for officers?" DeSantis offered. "This is showing that we will be here and we will be supporting you. I’m excited to announce the proposal here."
The governor said he chose the Lakeland Police Department as the location for the announcement after learning authorities traveled out of the state to recruit for the agency.
"I originally heard about them on Facebook, they were doing a recruitment process in Times Square," said Officer Matthew Spoto, who was one of the officers recently hired. "I stopped by the dedicated team…and they were telling me a little bit about life in Florida."
Spoto was with the New York City Police Department for about two years, before meeting with Lakeland police and deciding to move to Florida.
"[They said], ‘You can park your police vehicles in front of your house.’ To me, I thought that was mind-blowing," he recalled. "I used to have to lie about what I do. It was almost like I was ashamed to be a law enforcement officer."
He said it also helped to watch from afar, and see the Florida legislature secure funding for $1,000 bonuses to first responders. Spoto said he felt that the tools and law during his time in New York wouldn't allow him to help people the way he wanted to.
"I knew this was where I wanted to be. I’ll tell you that I’m very excited in this next chapter of my life," he explained.
DeSantis' announcement comes a few days after Lakeland police and Polk County deputies responded to a quadruple murder with an ex-Marine identified as the suspect. An 11-year-old girl is the sole survivor of the deadly shooting and is recovering at Tampa General Hospital.
Sheriff Grady Judd said the suspect, 33-year-old Bryan Riley, opened fire at police and deputies before he surrendered.
"It's just a blessing from the good Lord that they're in the shootout and the subsequent volleys of shootouts that my deputies and our colleagues from Lakeland Police Department weren't shot and killed as well," said Sheriff Judd.
DeSantis said the crime was "outrageous."
"This guy was totally off his rocker. When you have something like that happening, what do you do? These are the folks you call upon," he said. "And they are there for you time and time again…I think the least we can do is let them know we support them."