VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. — Pay, stress and heavy scrutiny have law enforcement agencies across the country struggling to find applicants. The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office is working to change that.
Sheriff Mike Chitwood sees the department’s new training academy, which launched in February, as a game-changer for his agency and the recruiting game.
It’s different from the traditional academy at local colleges, where recruits may have to pay their own way and not receive benefits.
“We could hire folks from day one — they would be deputy recruit sheriffs,” Chitwood said. “We would pay them $17 an hour, they would have full medical coverage, they would be in the pension plan and we would be able to train them the way we wanted them trained.”
Back in 2019, the sheriff’s office was down 80 deputies out of its roughly 460 sworn positions before the academy launched. Now it will only be down 11 officers.
“In five years from now we are going to see a different sheriff’s office because the majority of those folks are going to be homegrown — taught by us, trained by working with us,” Chitwood said.
Finding people who want to work in law enforcement is something union leaders say is a struggle for almost all agencies.
“Don’t think I’ve seen it this bad ever,” said Mike Scudiero with Coastal PBA Union, which represents more than a dozen departments in Central Florida.
Scudiero has overseen the Coastal PBA Union since 2007, and he feels the benefits and resources the sheriff’s office now has with its academy give it a leg up.
“When you go to the sheriff’s academy you’re not paying anything,” he said. “They are paying for you and they are paying a salary to sit in that class and go through that training so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where your blue-chippers are going to wind up.”
Those who study law enforcement said the risks and scrutiny associated with the job, as well as the pay are all factors in why people are shying away from the job.
Randy Nelson, a former corrections officer and head of Bethune Cookman University’s criminal justice department, said better training, weeding out bad cops, better pay and community engagement in minority neighborhoods are all needed to turn things around.
“Our colleges, our universities and our high schools need to find folk with a willing heart to service first, then equip them with the skill set and training to be effective law enforcement,” Nelson said.