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Saturday, May 21, 2022

Ocala Police Department struggling to fill vacancies

The Ocala Police Department has experienced a double-digit turnover of staff and they are struggling to fill those vacancies.

During last night’s Ocala City Council Meeting, OPD requested over $2.1 million in funds from the General Fund Reserve for Contingencies to help increase department-wide salaries.

A salary study was conducted comparing OPD’s salaries to other local government agencies, and it was determined that OPD needs to raise salary minimums in order to be competitive with hiring, retaining, and recruiting staff.

The council members unanimously approved the funding for increased OPD salaries. The funds will be distributed among various police department accounts.

Police Chief Mike Balken spoke about the state of the department during last night’s meeting.

“We continue to work hard at recruiting and retaining the best qualified workforce that we can find,” Balken said. “We stand at 17 total vacancies. Another 20 police officers currently in some form of training, either in recruit school or field training. So I’m really hopeful that the salary increases that you just voted on go a long way in helping us meet our goals and objectives.”

Towards the end of the meeting, councilman Ire Bethea asked Balken if the staffing woes are a result of numerous retirements.

Balken responded by saying, “I wish that was the case because we can foresee that. If we can see that coming, we can plan for it. This really comes on the heels of, quite frankly, a lot of anti-police sentiment that went on around the country the last two years. There’s not a whole lot of 19 year old kids that are watching the 11 o’clock news and saying, ‘I want to go be a police officer.’ So I think that alone cut down on the number of applicants.”

Balken referenced the current economic boom in the private sector and how it has affected the department. “We’ve lost a lot of folks,” he said. “A lot of seasoned officers that would normally have been there long enough to be locked into the retirement and not want to leave, they’ve left for some very lucrative job offers in the private sector. We’re kind of taking a one-two punch here.”

The additional funds for OPD salaries, according to Balken, are “a huge step in getting us where we need to be.”