JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Only 10 of 29 people laid off by the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office last year are willing to return to their jobs, according to Sheriff John Rutherford.
Rutherford says while none of the 116 positions eliminated by budget cuts last fall have been restored, there are 49 vacancies in the agency from retirements and departures.
So far, the majority of former employees offered their jobs back have declined, saying they either have found better jobs or they are unwilling to return to JSO due to uncertainty about pay, future pension benefits and other issues. Rutherford said more than 40 officers resigned to work at other agencies after this year's pension presentation.
"That's disconcerting," he said. "We've never had a problem hiring good qualified applicants, but because of the pension talk, because of the layoffs, because of the salary cut, it's creating some difficulties on getting some good men and women of character for this agency."
The sheriff said he's also concerned about Jacksonville's crime rate as a result.
"I know this, everywhere I put officers, crime goes down. So if I have less officers to put out there, it's going to have an impact," he said.
Meanwhile, a proposal is pending before Jacksonville City Council that would allow former JSO employees who live outside Duval County to be allowed waivers to the new ordnance that requires all new city hires to live in the county.
As a former JSO recruiter, Channel 4 crime analyst Ken Jefferson believes it's no surprise the sheriff is having a tough time compared to years past.
"It was an easy sell when you talked about all of the opportunities and benefits that the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office had to offer. It was the premiere law enforcement agency," Jefferson said. "It's not that anymore, and it's rapidly becoming that stepping-stone agency."
The biggest concern for many is what might happen if fewer officers are on patrol.
"We need more police on the street," Jacksonville resident Margarite Bryant said. "It's a lot of crime out here, so without it, crime is just going to continue."
Other taxpayers are worried about the budget, arguing there are other ways to ensure public safety.
"I would rather see us save a few dollars where we can," resident Ben Shave said.
The sheriff says he'll continue to make callbacks and hopeful will eventually be able to rehire more officers.