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Police Shooting Cases Spur FDLE To Seek More Investigators

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement wants more investigators to handle an increase in shooting incidents involving officers at other police agencies across the state.

The department next week will present Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet an outline of its budget proposals, which include requests for a boost in salaries for forensic lab technicians and for additional staff to help investigate officer-involved shootings and use-of-force cases.

"Over the past five years, requests for these investigations have increased over 100 percent," department Legislative Affairs Director Ron Draa told aides for the Cabinet and Scott on Wednesday. "Last year alone, we saw a 40 percent increase, which accounts for about 25,000 investigative hours or equates to about 14 (full-time employees)."

The department is often brought in to investigate cases in which local police officers fire their weapons. In the recently completed 2014-2015 budget year, the FDLE opened 63 officer-involved shooting cases at other agencies, up from 48 a year earlier. The department started 29 such investigations in the 2010-2011 budget year, 52 in 2011-2012 and 67 the following year.

Lawmakers this year approved funding for 17 full-time agents to handle use-of-force investigations within the Department of Corrections. However, the Legislature didn't back the FDLE's request for $1.87 million to fill 14 full-time positions to assist in investigations stemming from police being involved in shootings.

The department is still developing its proposals for the 2016 legislative session and has yet to specify overall dollar amounts, Draa said. However, the state law enforcement agency has dollar figures tied to an effort to keep crime-lab analysts from seeking better opportunities.

Draa said the department is proposing a $10,000 increase to the annual starting pay of crime-lab analysts and a $12,000 boost to the base pay for senior crime-lab analysts in an effort to make their salaries competitive with counterparts in local agencies and in neighboring states.

"I think our goal is to put them at the average," Draa said. "The challenge with some of the locals is that some of the locals only have two or three analysts and they can pay top dollar. We can't pay our hundreds of analysts top dollar."

Draa said with vacancies among biology technicians around 24 percent, the goal is to "kill the huge influx of people that are leaving."

The department has 193 crime-lab analysts, a position that has a $40,948 annual starting salary.

The base pay for a senior crime lab analyst is $43,507. The department has 69 senior analysts.

The issue of pay in the crime lab has been around a while.

Before former FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey was forced from office in December, state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater expressed concerned with the "turnaround" time of investigations going through the FDLE's crime lab and noted that employees in the lab are paid less than their counterparts at other agencies.

Bailey told Scott and the Cabinet on Dec. 9 that the department's lab is seen as a "training ground" and faces "tremendous turnover problems."

Also during a meeting next Wednesday, the Florida Department of Highway and Motor Vehicles will present Scott and the Cabinet with 11 budget requests for the 2016 legislative session worth a combined $39.8 million.

The proposals include replacing up to 40 vehicles that have been destroyed in crashes and building a new advanced vehicle-driving range for the Florida Highway Patrol academy at the Florida Public Safety Institute.

Susan Carey, chief financial officer for the department, said the driving range is to provide a more "real-life pursuit" experience than the existing range.

"What we've seen is that our current driving facilities at the academy are somewhat antiquated and place some limitations on the types of driving exposure that the academy troops can do," Carey said of the need for the proposed $2.8 million driving range.