Pasco County’s top law enforcement official appeared before the Pasco County Commission last week, making a case for the county to fund more deputies on the street.
Citing a statistic from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco told the county board: “We are 64th out of 67 counties, in terms of law enforcement officers, per thousand (residents) that we serve.”
Based on figures from Florida Tax Watch, Pasco ranks 55th out of the state’s 67 counties in terms of funding for public safety, Nocco added.
Pasco County significantly lags behinds Pinellas County, when it comes to sworn law enforcement officers, Nocco said, noting Pasco’s ratio is 1.06 officers per 1,000 residents, while Pinellas County’s ratio is 1.86.
Other ratios of nearby counties are: 1.23 for Hillsborough County; 1.26 for Polk County; and, 1.32 for Hernando County.
Nocco also emphasized that these are numbers from the FDLE.
To match Pinellas County’s level of service, Pasco would need 399 more deputies. It would need 130 more to match Hernando; 100 more to match Polk; and, 85 more to match Hillsborough.
The staffing at the Pasco Sheriff’s Office is not keeping pace with the county’s growth, Nocco said.
“We’re trying to maintain the level where we’re at. We seem to keep falling behind.
“I am not anti-growth. I am not anti-development. That’s not my role and responsibility.
“My role and responsibility, as the sheriff, is to make sure we do everything we can to keep our community safe,” Nocco said.
He added: “It’s also my role to come here and explain this and tell you, this, to tell you, ‘Hey, this is where we’re at.’”
He told the county board that for every 1,000 additional residents, Pasco should be adding two additional deputies.
And, that, he said, would just slightly improve the current level of service.
He also told commissioners that it’s not just a matter of hiring new deputies. They must go through an onboarding process.
“It takes us over a year to hire somebody, train that person, put through orientation and put them on the street,” Nocco said.
Plus, since it’s an around-the-clock job, 365 days a year, it’s not just a matter of hiring one deputy to be out on patrol. It takes five deputies to equal having one on patrol at all times.
Pay is another significant issue, Nocco said.
Around 2015, Pasco lost more than 100 officers to the City of Tampa, because of pay.
“They actually called it ‘The Tampa 100 Club,’” Nocco said.
While the county board responded to that problem, Pasco again is at a disadvantage when it comes to pay, Nocco said.
“We’re now competing against higher-paying agencies. So, Tampa PD (Police Department) is starting at $60,000 a year. Pinellas is $51,000.
“Florida Highway Patrol is planning to have a starting salary of $56,000 a year, if Gov. Ron DeSantis approves it, which he has said that he will,” Nocco said.
At the same time, Pasco’s starting salary is $46,948, just slightly above Hernando County.
He also noted there’s an issue of hiring law enforcement officers across the country “because a lot of people lost interest, and say, ‘Hey, maybe I don’t want to get into that field,’’’ Nocco said.
Pasco’s 30-year retirement also puts it at a disadvantage to Tampa, which has a 20-year retirement for high-risk positions, Nocco said.
If the county doesn’t increase pay for its law enforcement officers, they will go elsewhere, Nocco said.
“And, if you lose them to Hillsborough, Pinellas, you’ve now trained them up, build them up, and they go somewhere else,” he said.
The sheriff also asked the county board for some assurances about his budget.
“I don’t think there’s anyone who will disagree with keeping the current budget for law enforcement and court security at $111 million.
“I just want to make sure that everybody is good with that, that the $111 million stays with the law enforcement budget and the $51 million (for jail operations) will transfer back to the county.
Reducing the $111 million would result in reduced law enforcement services in the county, Nocco said.
Commission Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey told Nocco: “I’m not prepared to say anything about numbers.”
County Administrator Dan Biles said, “as part of the jail transfer, our budget office is working with (their budget office), to see what their expenses are in the jail, because we have to build a budget based on line-item expenses. So, we’re working on that.”
However, Biles added, “I don’t expect us to ask for any of that piece, as we move forward into ’23, with the jail transition.”
Commissioner Mike Moore wants the county to explore ways it could shift the burden of these costs to the new growth that is causing the expenses.
He raised the prospect of creating a new MSTU (municipal services taxing unit), so new growth could pay for new costs incurred for public safety services.
County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder said it might be possible to structure something like that, but added that he’s not aware of it being done anywhere, and he’s not sure that would be defensible.
After the lengthy discussion, there was a consensus on the board that the conversation needs to continue.
The board has a budget workshop planned for May 24.
Ratio of law enforcement officers (per 1,000 residents)
Source: Pasco County Sheriff Nocco, citing state law enforcement figures
Published April 13, 2022