Sheriff Hoffman seeking to expand patrol sectors and hire 39 new employees, 28 of whom would be sworn officers

Preliminary Sheriff’s Office budget for 2025 fiscal year totals $201.3 million

Col. Brian Woodring (left) and Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman address the County Commission on June 21. News Leader image

In an effort to reduce Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputies’ response time for calls, Sheriff Kurt A. Hoffman and his chief deputy, Col. Brian Woodring, have proposed adding a fifth Patrol Division sector, as well as 12 patrol deputies, two traffic deputies, an extra captain and a new administrative lieutenant in the 2025 fiscal year, which will begin on Oct. 1.

During their June 21 presentation to the Sarasota County Commission, Hoffman noted that the total budget has been put at $201,320,106 for the 2025 fiscal year, with $140,086,503 of that dedicated to the agency’s Law Enforcement Division.

The adopted Sheriff’s Office budget for this fiscal year is $180,722,970, according to a slide in the county administration document for the commission’s budget workshops last week.

“About 80% of this is personnel costs,” Hoffman noted of the 2025 fiscal year request.

Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Taking out the additional funds for the Florida Retirement System, health care, fuel and “probably several” of the multimillion-dollar contracts involving services in the jail, he said, the budget increase is a little below 9.2%, year-over-year.

The county’s General Fund pays for the Sheriff’s Office’s operations. That fund comprises the revenue the county receives from property tax payments, along with state revenue-sharing funds, proceeds from the county’s half-cent sales tax, a Florida Power & Light Co. franchise fee, and revenue from a Communications Service Tax, another county administration staff slide pointed out.

Including other revenue sources with those above, the General Fund is projected to have a total of $782,502,636 in the 2025 fiscal year, which is 19.8% higher than the current adopted General Fund budget of $706,400,983, the slide said.

The General Fund is the most flexible source of revenue for county departments and operations of the county’s constitutional officers that do not bring in revenue to support their services, county staff has explained.

During his June 21 presentation, Sheriff Hoffman showed the board another slide noting that the county’s population is expected to be up 28% from 2007 to 2025 — from 373,928 to 478,983. Yet, the Sheriff’s Office’s personnel count will have climbed only 5% during the same period, the slide said — from 1,050 to 1,100.

Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Hoffman explained that he used 2007 as the starting year because that was the first year with which he became involved with the agency’s budget. He was the chief deputy for former Sheriff Tom Knight.

In the past few years, Hoffman pointed out that the commissioners have been “kind enough to give us the [full-time employees] that we need to be able to kind of get on track with the increase in population.”

Yet another slide in his presentation noted that, in 2023, the ratio of Sheriff’s Office personnel to the population in the unincorporated areas of the county was 1.23 to 1,000. That figure was shown in comparison to the ratios for Manatee County and Sarasota County municipal law enforcement agencies, as well as other Florida sheriff’s offices in counties with similar population levels. The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office ratio last year was 1.34 officers to 1,000 residents. For the Sarasota Police Department, the ratio was 3.28 to 1,000.

The average for sheriff’s offices statewide, Hoffman added, is about 1.65 to 1,000.

Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

That slide, Hoffman told the commissioners, was the primary factor in his request for more employees in the 2025 fiscal year. Of the 39 new agency members he is seeking, he continued, 28 would be sworn officers or have enforcement capability. Referring to the latter part of that statement, he explained that the Animal Services personnel are considered civilians, but they can handle enforcement issues, as well.

Even with the low personnel ratio, Hoffman pointed out, since 2009, major crimes — those the FBI used to reference as “Part 1” incidents — are down 58%. In fact, he said, the first quarter of this year “is the lowest quarter of Part 1 activity since 2009.”
The total number of Part 1 incidents, a slide showed, was 867.

Part 1 crimes are murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, and motor vehicle theft.

Part 1 crimes in the county in 2009 added up to 9,131, the slide also noted. The total in 2023 was 3,802.

Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

‘A deep dive’ into the response time situation

When he hears complaints about traffic in Sarasota County, Hoffman continued during his presentation, “I say, ‘It’s traffic. We don’t have a lot of the violent felony crime that you see over to the north and south of us.’ ”

Then Col. Woodring explained the plans to increase the number of Sheriff’s Office sectors and zones starting in the 2025 calendar year.

“A lot of factors went into this,” Woodring said, including the increase in population, the deputy ratio, and traffic congestion in the county.

The relevant slide noted that the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office response time for non-priority calls for the day shift is more than 10 minutes; for non-priority nighttime calls, it is more than 7 minutes.

In contrast, Woodring added, the national response time is 5 to 7 minutes. “We’re way above that, which is unacceptable for our agency at this time.”

Staff “took a deep dive,” Woodring continued, to determine what could be done to lower those response times and deal better with officer safety concerns.

Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

The Sheriff’s Office has four patrol sectors, he said, and 21 zones, with one deputy sheriff assigned to each of those zones. Some of those zones, Woodring pointed out, are “quite large in size, and that impacted our response times and our officer safety concerns …”

That factor also contributed to disparity in service among the zones, he noted.

Some of the zones accounted for hundreds of thousands more calls for service than others, he said.

Therefore, the decision has been made to increase the number of zones to 26 and to add a new sector, Woodring told the commissioners.

Given the current situation, he explained, the deputy in a zone may be responding to a non-emergency call — meaning that the deputy is operating without emergency lights and siren — but the backup deputy for that zone “may not be able to respond for several minutes … because of [other] calls for service” or the geography of that zone.

With all of the extra full-time employees being requested, Woodring continued, “our Patrol Bureau will be over 200 [people] strong, which will be the biggest bureau in our agency at this time.”

Further, he explained, the Sheriff’s Office has just one captain assigned to the Patrol Bureau, along with nine lieutenants. “That’s a huge span of control for one person,” he stressed of the captain.

The industry standard, Woodring noted, is five to seven captains, “with five being the target number.”

Having a second captain on board, he added, will enable the agency to create a second Patrol Bureau; one can handle North County; the other, South County, “each having a captain and an administrative lieutenant.”

Then Hoffman said, “I know all the commissioners … receive traffic complaints, because I funnel the responses back to you … I think by reorganizing the zones and the sectors, we can respond to [calls] in a more timely manner.”

He added that the goal is “to cut the times down to get even to those non-priority calls. A disturbance between two people arguing in a parking lot,” Hoffman pointed out, can become a physical altercation. It is important, he said, to get a deputy there before the dispute reaches that level. Such calls should be a priority, as well, he added.

Yet another factor in the zone and sector realignment, Hoffman explained, is that that will enable patrol deputies to circle back around more often to areas where the majority of calls originate. One of those areas of concern is Ibis Street, which is south of Clark Road and east of Interstate 75, he noted.

A map shows the location of Ibis Street and its planned extension, east of the site of Neal Communities’ Grand Park development. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Hoffman took the opportunity to tell the commissioners, “We had a really good spring break this year on Siesta Key, and we had a really good Memorial Day,” referencing lack of crime.

“I attribute a lot of that to Col. Woodring,” he said, and to Major Ryan Brown, who is the commander of the Law Enforcement Division. The plans they put in place for those events, including assignment of extra deputies, “was instrumental,” the sheriff said, in achieving the good results.

Commissioner Mark Smith, a long-time Siesta Key resident, commended Hoffman for the agency’s handling of spring break on the barrier island, whose beach remains one of the top tourist attractions in the county.

“I noticed it,” Smith said of the presence of the additional personnel.

Hoffman presented the board a slide showing data related to other specific aspects of the agency’s work.

Traffic crash investigations on the rise

As for adding two new traffic deputies: Woodring pointed out, “Right now, we work approximately 80% of all traffic crashes in the unincorporated areas of Sarasota County.”

A slide showed that the number of traffic crashes countywide in 2023 was 8,022, which was a 3% uptick, compared to the 2021 number of 7,784, the slide also noted.

The number of those crashes that the Sheriff’s Office handled rose 10% from 2021 to 2023, the slide said. The 2023 total was 6,201.

He, the sheriff and the agency’s senior staff, Woodring continued, “believe that our citizens should not have to wait two, three, sometimes four hours for a state agency to respond to investigate a single traffic crash.” Instead, he said, the Sheriff’s Office should handle such incidents. “Those two additional traffic deputies will accomplish that mission for us.”

In response to a question from Commissioner Ron Cutsinger, Sheriff Hoffman said that he and his senior staff especially do not want crash victims waiting for long times on the sides of Interstate 75, and Bee Ridge and Clark roads.

“All it does is cause more crashes,” Hoffman added, when no quick response occurs to an initial accident. “More people get hurt, and [the original victims are] aggravated by the time somebody gets there to work their crash.”

Yet, Hoffman pointed out, “There are sheriffs to the north and south of me who say that people can wait four or five hours [for an officer to arrive].”

Cutsinger concurred that one “fender-bender” can lead to traffic backing up on the interstate or a major road “for miles and miles,” which often results in more crashes, especially rear-end collisions, “because people aren’t paying attention [to vehicles stopping in front of them].”

When Cutsinger asked whether investigating crashes is supposed to be the responsibility of the Florida Highway Patrol [FHP], Hoffman replied, “There are a significant amount of crashes that occur on state roads. That is FHP’s responsibility.”

Hoffman added that he believes his agency has responded to about 5% more crashes this year than last year.

Last year, Hoffman said, efforts were made to try to convince Florida’s legislators to provide more state funding to assist local agencies in dealing with traffic accidents. Yet, he said, “There just didn’t seem to be any interest in Tallahassee …”

“I drove to Tampa the other day,” Hoffman told the board members, “and counted eight crashes from University [Parkway] to Tampa, and [that] basically gridlocked an entire section of our state.”

He felt sure, he said, that the initial crash ultimately led to the others.

Agency metrics

Using another slide, Hoffman reminded the board members that he had predicted a couple of years ago that the total number of calls that the Public Safety Communications center receives would top 700,000 before long. In 2023, that happened, he said.

The facility recorded a total of 709,769 emergency and non-emergency calls in 2023, the slide pointed out; that was a 4% increase over the 2021 tally of 679,635.

The Public Safety Communications center handles dispatch for every single law enforcement agency and fire department in the county except for the North Port Police Department, Hoffman said.

Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

As the county continues to grow, Hoffman continued, that facility will need to be expanded. He indicated that that likely would be a discussion in regard to next year’s budget.

Among other data, the slide showed that the number of overdoses in the county fell 33% from 2021 to 2023. The total in the latter year was 244.

Hoffman attributed that downturn to educational efforts and the over-the-county availability of Narcan, which generally revives someone suffering an overdose.

Yet another slide noted that the per capital cost of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office this year is $515, without the numbers for Animal Services — which responds to all jurisdictions in the county, Hoffman said — and the Public Safety Communications center. Those two services, the slide pointed out, totaled $63 per capita.

The $515 total is the lowest in the region, Hoffman pointed out. The per capita cost for Manatee County is $557; for Lee County, $729.

He did explain that the figures are for the unincorporated areas.

Image courtesy Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Further, Hoffman noted that people across the United States are interested in working for the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office, given reports about the good working relationship the agency’s leaders have with local government officials in the county.

During a job fair just a couple of weeks earlier, the sheriff said — with “about 100-degree heat” — 53 applicants showed up at the agency’s headquarters on Cattleridge Road in Sarasota. Two of those persons, he added, “flew in from California,” and a couple were former officers with the New York Police Department.

The two from California, Hoffman noted, had googled the Sheriff’s Office and read articles about its relationship with the County Commission.

Leave a Comment