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FOP career fair raises questions for some

Opponents say fair lures cops away from city; FOP says members come first

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police hosted a job fair Wednesday inviting agencies from around the state and country to entice local law enforcement officers into joining their departments.

But not everyone agreed that the career fair was in the best interest of the city.

News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith, a former officer with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, said the controversy surrounding the job fair stems from the belief that the FOP wasn't thinking about the safety of the citizens of Jacksonville. But the FOP said it's obligated to look out for local officers, especially when many of them are voicing concerns over the city pension deal and their future retirement benefits.

Smith said not all FOP board members were in favor of the job fair, but it happened anyway. FOP President Steve Amos said the FOP cares about the safety of citizens but said the city needs to make changes in the way it pays these officers, if it wants to keep them.

"The city of Jacksonville doesn't have a recruitment problem, they've got a retention problem. And this is not the sheriff's fault. This is not any one person's fault. Every time it goes back and forth the City Council sends it back, saying, 'It's not good enough. We want more.' And the guys see that and say, 'When is it going to end?'" Amos said. "For the last four or five years, we've been losing officers to other agencies like crazy. The pension issue is obviously something that motivates this. These guys with five to six years, they don't see any improvement in the future for them. Every time the budget goes through, the sheriff's budget is slashed."

One class of JSO recruits just hit the street with training officers this week; and another class of recruits is expected to start at the academy next month. Those classes typically have 35-40 members.
 
But Smith said in Jacksonville the time it takes an officer to respond to a scene is two minutes above the national average.
 
"Over the past three years, approximately 70 to 80 officers have left not due to retirement, but left to go to other police departments," Smith said.
 
Amos said that is why the organization decided to bring other agencies together in one room to give its members more options.
 
Smith said the only problem is that those options could take officers off the streets, but the FOP said it's looking out for its members.
 
"If you're going to risk your life every day to do your job and have the stressors involved in that, then why would you want to have to worry about paying the benefits side, where you take care of your family?" Amos said. "That just adds stress on both sides of you -- in your professional life and private life."
 
Amos said a common misconception is that officers get free health insurance. He said that isn't true, saying when he retires in July, he'll have to pay $910 out of each pension check, which means about $22,000 a year just for health insurance.