NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – The Nassau County Sheriff's Office has seen its calls for service skyrocket.
It's no secret the county is growing: estimates by Nassau County Government place the county's population at 114,000 by 2030, making it the ninth-fastest growing county in Florida.
Sheriff Bill Leeper said his department has to be ready for the influx of new residents and commercial property and not get caught in a "crisis situation."
“Growth is good if you can manage it, control it, but there are other issues that come along with that that really affects us,” Leeper said.
From 2017 to 2018, NCSO had a 28% increase in calls for service. From 2018 to 2019 there was an 18% increase.
NCSO responds to all law enforcement calls for service countywide and provides additional assistance within the city of Fernandina Beach, unincorporated areas of the county, and to the towns of Callahan and Hilliard.
According to Leeper, his department is currently operating with 1.5 sworn patrol deputies per 1,000 residents, which is well below the state average of 2.16 and national average of 2.4.
“We can‘t afford, nor is it safe, to operate with less,” Leeper wrote in the 2019 budget request letter to county commissioners.
Leeper said his patrol staff is pretty full right now, but he needs more corrections officers to deal with the overcrowding problem at the jail. Its maximum capacity is 315 inmates, but he said some busy weekends it can hit 340.
In May of 2018, Leeper wrote a letter to the Nassau County Board of Commissioners, alerting commissioners to the problem. He asked to add a new wing to the jail, which could house 150 to 200 inmates because they have such a high number of inmates needing medical or mental health care.
Almost two years later, and Leeper said the request hasn’t gone anywhere.
For the upcoming budget year, Leeper said he plans to ask for at least one more patrol deputy per shift and a few corrections positions. His request has to be finalized by June 1.
“There’s no other agency, no other constitutional office in Nassau County that has the responsibility that we have to protect our entire community, and that’s a heavy burden to carry,” Leeper said. “So we want to make sure that safety is our number one priority.”