ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – With more homes, more businesses, more roads and more traffic in St. Johns County, it's getting harder for the Sheriff's Office to keep up with calls for service.
The county has added more than 50,000 residents since 2010 -- a population increase of more than 28 percent -- while the department's staff has only grown by about 15 percent, and nearly one-third of those are assigned as newly mandated school resource officers.
The Sheriff's Office currently has 324 deputies. While the sheriff could use 40 more, that number may not be requested in the next budget year. He is meeting with his department heads and the school district now and will make his budget proposal this summer.
Spokesman Chuck Mulligan said with fewer deputies, the Sheriff's Office may not focus much on things like traffic stops but will prioritize more critical issues.
"You may have nine or 10 personnel at one call, depending on how significant the call is, while other calls are simply an alarm call -- a false alarm, for example. One deputy goes. Five minutes later, that call is resolved and we’re off to another call," Mulligan said.
The department actually lost employees during the recession a decade ago. There were 15 deputies added in both 2016 and 2017, but those were the first additions to the department since the recession. Sixteen more deputies were hired last year, but they were all assigned to school security duty as part of new requirements by the state in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland.
"We knew that budget cuts would be coming so we, on our own, began attrition (of) our workforce," Mulligan said.
Most St. Johns County residents said they feel safe, but know that more people means more opportunities for crime. They hope to continue to see deputies patrolling their areas.
"We're concerned about too much growth, but what that looks like, we’re not sure," said John Shepard, who moved to St. Johns County three years ago.