Sheriff John Rutherford said Wednesday that city budget cuts forced him to eliminate 129 positions at the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, and the resulting reorganization caused the demotions of 13 officers.
Holding back tears, Rutherford described having to lay off 48 police officers and 29 civilian employees over the past 48 hours.
"I am incredibly proud of the character that I have seen exhibited by 77 employees of the Sheriff's Office that I have had the unfortunate responsibility of laying off over these last two days," Rutherford said. "I met with every one of them, shook their hand, told them I appreciated their service, and that I hope this would get resolved and I would be able to bring them all back."
The remaining positions lost were either vacant or open due to previous reorganizations.
Rutherford said that officers were pulled from other departments and special assignments so that the number of officers on patrol will remain unchanged.
"No matter how much we must change our operations, service to our citizens remains our top priority," Rutherford said. "I am confident that emergency police services will not be impacted by these cuts. However, citizens may experience a somewhat slower response time to non-emergency calls."
Uncut Video:Video:Document:JSO Budget, Staffing Documents
According to figures obtained by Channel 4, the cuts represent about 4 percent of the 1,651 Jacksonville officers on the force before the layoffs began.
"We're going back to numbers of three years ago when we were the No. 1 murder capital of Florida," Fraternal Order of Police President Nelson Cuba said earlier in the week.
Rutherford said he had proposed cutting $16.5 million from what he described as an already lean budget, but the City Council cut another $1.2 million. Last week, the sheriff also learned that the department would not receive a $3.4 million federal grant that would have paid for about 50 officers.
Rutherford said civilian employees were eliminated in recent years during previous belt-tightening, but this is the first time officers lost jobs.
"When we get to this point, there's nothing left but police positions," Rutherford said. "What I have cut is what I believe will have the least significant impact on public safety."
Channel 4 was told by the FOP that the officers losing their jobs were from the June 2011 and spring 2010 graduating classes from the police academy.
None of the officers let go would talk about the process because they were hoping to be rehired when positions become available due to retirements or other reasons.
Cuba said that Orange and Pinellas counties are hiring certified officers, so many of the officers Duval County paid to be trained will go to work for other agencies.
Some in City Council had publicly asked the sheriff to consider eliminating the department's take-home vehicle policy in an effort to save money to use on officers' salaries. The sheriff continues to resist that idea.
"With fewer officers on the streets, those take-home cars become more important, not less," Rutherford said, noting how many calls officers handle while off duty in their police vehicles. "That helps increase police presence out in the community. Doing away with the take-home car plan is not the way to go."
Rutherford said he wants to privatize his fleet management, which could have about $500,000 per year.
At Wednesday's news conference, Rutherford also said the FOP's legal complaint of unfair labor practice had been dismissed. The FOP claimed that Rutherford meeting with officers about budget issues and discussion of union's unwillingness to accept a 2 percent pay cut at mandatory roll call assemblies last month amounted to intimidation.
While the sheriff continues to maintain that some officers could be rehired if the police union agreed to the same salary reduction every other city department has accepted. The FOP continues to say there are other things that should be cut first.