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Death of deputy raises concerns over state's probationary program

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Nine days after he was fatally shot and killed, Highlands County Sheriff’s Deputy William Gentry was laid to rest on Tuesday. 

“They have to be prepared for every situation,” said Mathew Puckett of the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

The accused killer, Joseph Ables, was classified as a "Violent Felony Offender of Special Concern."

He was serving a four-year probation for aggravated battery.

“I don't know what the deputy knew as he was going there, but he was called out to investigate this circumstance, a dispute between some neighbors,” Puckett said.

The Florida Department of Corrections says it followed the court’s supervision orders and until the shooting, Ables hadn't violated his probation.

In a statement, Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones said: "The terms of Joseph Ables’ probation were determined by a court, not FDC … Any assertion that FDC is somehow responsible for this disturbed individual’s alleged actions is unfair and irresponsible. We strive every day to keep our communities safe, and when a brother or sister in uniform is killed, we are devastated.”

However, Able’s probationary status is resurfacing concerns over the state of Florida’s probation program. 

Over the last decade, there’s been a reduction of hundreds of officers and an increase in less-experienced officers.

“They haven't had the experience yet,” Puckett said. "They haven't seen everything that some of the offenders are going to offer."

According to police advocates, a lack of funding is to blame. 

Now, other transitional programs, such as addiction and re-entry services, are being cut by $29 million for the same reason.

“Hopefully we don't have people being killed, but we're going to have problems. We're going to have re-offenses,” Puckett said. "We're going to have recidivism. We're going to have these offenders going out and not reintegrating into society because they can't do it.”

According to police advocates, funding at the state Department of Corrections has escalated to a crisis level. 

They say corrections should be at the top of the agenda in the coming gubernatorial race.