The Palm Coast City Council this morning approved the addition of three sheriff’s deputies for supplemental policing in the city, bringing the total of uniformed officers under contract to 31, and the cost of policing the city to $4.1 million.
The force now includes 25 line deputies, one of them a school resource officer assigned to Flagler Palm Coast High School (and beyond the school during non-school hours), two corporals, three sergeants and a commander.
The council unanimously approved the addition in an amendment to the policing budget, which in 2018 was at $3.3 million, when the average cost of a line deputy was $110,535.
The measure carries a few caveats. Two of the three additional deputies are paid through the city’s general fund, and for nine months, at a cost of $86,029 each, though the city intends to keep them on in following fiscal years. The nine-month approach was intended to lessen the full impact of the new cost on the city’s budget.
The third deputy’s full-year cost of $114,000 is paid through the Town Center Community Development District, over which the council sits as a board as well. That doesn’t mean the deputy patrolling Town center can’t conduct policing elsewhere: all of the sheriff’s deputies’ assigned areas are fluid, allowing them to respond to emergencies anywhere if need be. But the deputy will be responsible primarily for Town center.
Sheriff Rick Staly, who was at the meeting of the council this morning, had initially asked for five deputies to add to the Palm Coast contract earlier this year. He’d also asked for more deputies from the county. Both governments demurred, fearing covid’s effects on their budgets. Then Palm Coast, which had also rejected additional deputies last year, compromised.
“This is a great start,” he told the council, noting that a University of North Florida study his office commissioned found a “deputy deficit” that both the city and the county should look to filling to some extent over the next few years. To that end, the city council and the County Commission are set to meet in a joint session in January to “really take a long-term look at how do we fund law enforcement in the city of Palm Coast and Flagler County in a joint partnership that’s fair to everybody,” Staly said.
The study by some measures calls for the sheriff’s ranks to have 78 more deputies by 2020. Staly said that number may not be attainable in the current budgetary climate, but sees it as framing the discussions to come.
Monday’s action by the council was intended as nothing more than a ratification of what had been discussed at length, and all but approved, in previous meetings–and a chance for elected officials in the thick of an election to pat themselves on the back. Staly doesn’t need more back-patting than he’s received in four years: he’s poised to garner the highest proportion of the vote for sheriff in at least a quarter century. But Mayor Milissa Holland and council member Nick Klufas are more embattled in their runoff elections.
“Thanks to your efforts over the last four years, obviously a significant crime reduction, safer neighborhoods that our residents feel that way, we have to keep the momentum going,” Holland told the sheriff, citing the 47 percent reduction in crime over the past four years that Staly has touted. Holland continued, speaking as if there was no election to contend with: “I look forward to the conversation in January with the County Commission, look forward to your input on how really you continue to look for ways to keep our community safe.”
Klufas relied on a citizens’ survey the city conducts every two years to point out the satisfaction with law enforcement. “People feel safer today than they had in 2017, and that’s really critical to us,” he said.
The item drew no public comment. But Staly ended first by recognizing the ranks, then noting a little-known, emerging reality similar to one that’s struck through the ranks of numerous critical professions: covid’s death toll in law enforcement. “I want to recognize the men and women whos serve you on a day to day basis,” he said. “I set the vision, I might set the tone of the agency, but they’re out delivering, they’re out implementing the vision.” He gave the ranks the credit for lowering the crime rate. Then, referring to the covid update that council members had heard earlier in the meeting, he said: “Fortunately we haven’t had this in our agency. But there have been more Covid-19 -related deaths in law enforcement this year across the country, and even in Florida, than those killed in the line of duty–throughout their serving, which puts them at risk, not through a gun battle, if you will, but through an invisible enemy.”
The website police1.com, which tracks deaths among law enforcement officers across the nation, lists 109 law enforcement deaths due to covid as of today, 11 of them in Florida, among them Chris Cunningham, a lieutenant with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office who contracted the disease on duty, and died on Aug. 5 after a 22-year career. He was 48.