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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, May 29, 2019 1 year ago

Winter Garden police chief seeks to fill officer vacancies

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The city’s police department is in the process of hiring 14 officers to fill its remaining 18 vacancies.
by: Gabby Baquero News Editor

Following the first reading of the proposed mid-year amendments for the city’s 2018-19 budget, Winter Garden commissioners received an update on the hiring goals for the city’s police department.

The ordinance, labeled Ordinance 19-24, includes an amendment involving $305,187 from the $4.46 million budget.

Initially, the $305,187 was reserved for police personnel costs, but the funds were not spent because of existing police officer vacancies in the Winter Garden Police Department.

Currently, the department has 18 vacancies, with 14 new recruits in various stages of the application process, Winter Garden Police Chief Steve Graham informed commissioners during the May 23 meeting.

“Police departments are never fully staffed,” Graham said. “We have 90 sworn officers, and today, we have 18 vacancies. Well, two fewer vacancies after tonight because we’re picking up two new recruits at the academy tonight. But we have 14 total in process, so if all those succeed, we’ll still need four more.”

To make up for their vacancies, the department pays existing officers overtime and requires specialty units to cover patrol duties, Graham said. The challenge to hire enough officers to meet their goal is something many departments face, particularly following the passage of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, he said.

“There’s a shortage of police officers in the whole area — the Sheriff’s Office is down about 80,” Graham said. “So we’re down, too, and we need to hire, but the SRO vacancies have just added to it. And we’re hiring the 14 new officers, but the process takes a long time, because it takes months to go through the background investigation. They apply, and if it looks like they’re going to make it through the first hurdle, then we invite them to take a written test and a physical test that involves an obstacle course. And if you do well on those, then they give you an oral board. Once you pass the oral board, then you fill out the rest of the application.”

Graham assured city leaders the department has been making great progress with hiring goals and preparing for new school resource officers it may need in the future. 

“I’m looking into the future, because we didn’t have any coverage in the schools a couple of years ago,” he said. “And because of the new law following Marjory Stoneman, we’ll need more officers. We don’t have any high schools in the city, but we went from zero to needing to eventually cover seven schools — possibly eight. So we’re going from nothing to possibly eight. Plus, the state requires charter school coverage. And we’re covering those with off-duty officers right now.”

Gabby is the news editor for the West Orange Times and Windermere Observer newspapers. Have a story tip? Contact her at (352) 448-5856 or at [email protected]....

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