VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. — A pair of bills in the state capitol are targeting policing agencies in unincorporated areas.
The proposals would eliminate the county’s beach patrol and give power to the sheriff’s office, and deputies would be assigned to the beach, and beach patrol staff would have to go through training to become sheriff’s deputies.
On Monday, Volusia County’s Beach Safety Union called for a meeting with Sheriff Mike Chitwood to talk about the proposals.
Beach safety officials said they believe the current plan will put more of a burden on law-enforcement agencies already dealing with shortages.
Chitwood, on the other hand, said the bills would only enhance policing services throughout the county.
“Right now, we’re kind of left in the dark,” Sgt. Ben Whestine said. “I don’t like rumor and speculation. I don’t like not knowing what’s going on and that’s been a concern with all of us down here.”
During a news conference Monday, Whestine responded to comments made by Chitwood last week, saying, “If you really looked at the tasks the Beach Patrol does, they become this specialized unit that runs around with guns but doesn’t really do law enforcement work. We find that statement insulting.
However, Chitwood is backing the bills, saying his deputies are already routinely called to handle major incidents on the beach.
Byron White from the Beach Safety Union believes the beaches will become a dangerous place if highly trained lifeguards are forced to fill holes in other areas.
“I think the sheriff is looking at this as a means to fill vacancies within his own department,” White said. “It makes sense on its face, but the reality is that all law enforcement public safety departments in America are critically understaffed right now.”
A county spokesperson said that no matter what happens with the bills, the county will continue to provide beach safety services.
Chitwood said he would take 35 of the 58 beach patrol officers onto his staff, and those who don’t want to become deputies could stay on the coast as lifeguards and medics.
If the bills pass, they’ll take effect July 1. A meeting is scheduled for next week to discuss a possible transition for employees.
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