Manatee sheriff makes another plea for budget increase

cnudi@bradenton.comJuly 12, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube presented his arguments for budget and staffing increases in his department to community leaders gathered Thursday for a Manatee Tiger Bay Club luncheon.

Steube's talk was basically the same he presented to the Manatee County Commission during a fiscal year 2013-14 budget workshop, except he brought Lt. John Murrell, in charge of Manatee County's school resource officer program, to help bolster his request for additional deputies.

The sheriff wants $3 million to hire 20 deputies and correctional officers, but the commission has yet to sign off on that increase.

Another $3 million is needed to relieve what Steube calls pay compression -- where starting deputy salaries are lower than nearby departments after recent pay freezes.

"We're losing deputies to other agencies," Steube said. "It's hard to tell someone, especially someone from Manatee County, to come work in the Manatee County Sheriff's Office when they can go across the bridge and work at Pinellas or Hillsborough county and make $3,000 to $8,000 more a year."

John Chappie was the only county commissioner at the luncheon. Chappie said the budget was still under review.

"It's a flagged item," he said. "Crime is there and we have to deal with it, and we will."

Rehiring school elementary schools resource officers, removed in 2010 because of school board budget restraints, was not in the sheriff's budget request. But Murrell spoke of the importance of eventually restaffing those positions.

Murrell, with the sheriff's office for 28 years, was a school resource officer for 14 years at Southeast High School and spent 11 years as supervisor of the program. He said the position is designed to keep children safe.

"We wear three hats: law enforcement officer, educator and counselor," he said.

With obvious passion, Murrell said it makes a big impression on school children when uniformed officers are in the school.

"We were like rock stars," he said.

All middle and high schools have resource officers, but Murrell said an elementary school officer could help deal with incidents such as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

Just as teachers are trained to react to a fire with drills, Murrell said, there should be drills for gun actions.

"You know you can make a difference when a kid comes back (after graduation) to say he appreciated having you at the school," he said.

Don Hall, assistant superintendent of operations, said there is no money for resource officers in elementary schools this year.

"As the school district becomes more financially sound," Hall said, "the goal is to hire more school resource officers.

"We know they make a difference."

None of the members who asked questions indicated support for a budget increase for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office, but many asked what the sheriff is doing to reduce crime.

Questions centered around school issues such as mental health screening in schools, gang activity, background checks for gun owners, and the impact of crime rates on the economy and businesses wanting to move to Manatee County.

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