In a move that has sparked debate and concern among residents, officials in Starke, Florida, on January 16 made the decision to dissolve its police department in favor of outsourcing law enforcement services to the Bradford County Sheriff’s Office.
The proposal, which has been the subject of heated discussions and deliberations, was approved with a 4–1 vote, with Commissioner Danny Nugent being the sole dissenting voice.
The resolution, effective March 1, will put the police force composed of 11 officers and one civilian employee out of work. However, they have been extended the opportunity to apply for employment within the Bradford County Sheriff’s Office.
City officials cited financial considerations as the driving force behind the decision, highlighting a substantial disparity between the police department’s budget of $1.1 million and the contracted fee of $625,000 to be paid to the Bradford County Sheriff’s Office for assuming law enforcement responsibilities within Starke.
This move has left Police Chief Jeff Johnson in a state of uncertainty.
Despite his opposition to the decision, Johnson, as an elected official, will retain his position within the department as the sheriff’s office transitions into its new role.
However, the fate of Johnson’s position hangs in the balance, as the city would need to secure voter approval through a ballot referendum to officially eliminate the role of the police chief.
The proposal to outsource law enforcement services is not a novel concept in Starke. Budgetary constraints and ongoing discussions surrounding potential cost-cutting measures have prompted city leaders to explore various avenues to streamline municipal operations.
Mayor Scott Roberts affirmed that the decision had been under consideration for several years, resurfacing amid current budgetary challenges.
According to Roberts, the city was committed to maintaining service levels while navigating financial constraints.
In response to concerns about job displacement within the police department, officials from the Bradford County Sheriff’s Office assured that vacancies would be filled by former Starke Police Department officers, leveraging the opportunity for seamless transition and job retention.
Sheriff Gordon Smith also underscored the office’s readiness to absorb released officers.