Hocus Pocus from Lenny and the Sheriff

It was comical as well as maddening watching efforts by First Coast News to drag out of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office exactly how many police officers are employed by the agency now.

JSO, under the leadership of Mr. Transparency Mike Williams, kept telling the news station that number wasn’t available.

Come on. The agency doesn’t know how many people are on its payroll?

And kudos to First Coast New for asking the question every day until the information was forthcoming.

The  number is a sensitive issue for the sheriff and Mayor Lenny Curry. As you might recall, Curry hammered Mayor Alvin Brown during their campaign battle for reducing the number of police, basically saying that Brown was responsible for the city’s high murder rate.

In Curry’s current re-election campaign television ads, he boasts of adding 180 police officers to ensure public safety. If that was the answer to violent crime, as  Curry contended in his first mayoral race, why are most days in Jacksonville still marked by murders?

The first answer is that Curry is highballing the number.

According to figures finally released by JSO, 523 officers have been hired since Curry and Williams took office on  July 1, 2015.

However, 70 of those have left the agency, another 236 officers have retired and 80 officers resigned or were terminated.

That means the net gain is 137 officers, not the 180 that Curry touts.

JSO points out that another 23 recruits have just started at the training academy. That would bring the number go 160. However, officers now on the force will likely retire or move onto other jobs, which will lessen the impact of the 23 new officers, if all of them make it through the academy.

That number 23 is interesting in itself. During the debate over the pension reform pushed by Curry, an argument was made that it will be difficult to recruit new hires who would fall under a defined contribution plan instead of a more lucrative defined benefit pension being offered by most law enforcement agencies in the state.

Previous classes have had 30 and 31 graduates, so that prediction of recruitment difficulties could very well be playing out.

And we will see in the next few years if another prediction holds true: New hires will work at  JSO for a few years, gain valuable training and experience, collect a defined contribution nest egg and then move to a department that has a defined benefit plan.

Curry’s accusations about the number of police officers lost during the Brown administration was always built on a false narrative.

It began with Brown’s first budget in 2011-12 and JSO’s claim that it cut 71 officers.

As I wrote in an April 2015 column for the Times-Union, the reality was this: Included in that 71 number were 28 school resource officers and 13 officers who provided security at JaxPort,

Those officers were not patrolling the streets of Jacksonville. And those positions weren’t lost; they were privatized.

Another 10 officers were transferred to a federal program.

The net loss from the 71 was actually 20, and the loss of 147 total that Curry continues to hammer Brown on was really 96.

That leads to one final question: With 137 more officers patrolling the streets of Jacksonville, which more than makes up for the 96 lost under Brown, why is mayhem still the order of the day?

If it was Brown’s fault then, is it Curry’s fault now?



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I wrote opinion columns for The Florida Times-Union for 28 years. I retired in December 2017, but I still have a few things to say. Often those thoughts come to me when I'm at our farm in Gadsden County where life is simple and the environment still beautiful.

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