The Orange City Police Department is spread thin, with seven vacancies on the force.
According to Orange City Police Chief Wayne Miller, the department should have 31 employees when fully staffed: 27 sworn officers and four civilians.
During the OCPD’s Annual Report Overview & Budget Presentation at the Orange City Council meeting on March 28, Miller informed the public that the OCPD is never at full staff.
“Hardly ever can you be at full staffing. Even if I had every position filled, someone is always out on vacation, out sick, in training, in court, or what have you,” Miller said. “I’ve been four positions down for a year. I had three people resign last week. Seven people I’m going to be down ….”
Most of the vacancies are in the Operations Division, the largest division of the Police Department. This division includes patrol officers, park rangers, the traffic unit, animal control and the community service aide. The Operations Division aims to prevent crime, enforce traffic laws, apprehend offenders and recover stolen property.
“Operations Division is the largest of our divisions, and it’s the heart and soul of the Police Department. It’s what everybody sees out there working on the road,” Miller said. “These folks have the most common resident interactions than any other member of the department because they’re out in the community, and that’s what we want.”
The International Association of Chiefs of Police recommends the officer-to-population ratio of 2.5 officers per 1,000 people, Miller said. Florida’s average is 2.4 officers, while Orange City’s is 1.9 officers.
“That’s for the nighttime residents … people who put their head on a pillow and sleep here. During the day, I have no idea how many people are in the city of Orange City. … When we add that number in, we have like half an officer per 1,000 people,” Miller said. “We’re getting pulled in a lot of directions, and we want to be there for everybody as best we can.”
Despite the seven vacancies, the OCPD still exceeds the suggested guideline of approximately 60 percent of a department’s sworn officers being assigned to patrol duties because it is the biggest division.
“We have 27 sworn. With 19 of our positions, we have 70 percent of our folks’ boots on the ground, out there on the street. So, we’re doing very, very well,” Miller said.
Miller assured the City Council that the vacancies were not entirely detrimental.
“Not the end of the world, and we’re getting there. We have a lot of recruitment ideas that we’re bringing forward,” Miller said. “But, for a small department, that’s pretty huge.”
Until more officers are hired, two of the three detectives are having to be put on the road to answer calls.
“You all have heard me say it before: It is not easy getting police officers hired anymore. It’s two weeks to resign and 52 weeks to bring someone on board,” Miller explained. “It’s six months of the academy and four or five months of training, unless you can find someone certified.”
Miller attributed part of the staffing problem to the sentiment surrounding law enforcement.
“Because of the negativity going on across the country with law enforcement, it’s not easy. They’re not getting a lot of people into the academies who want to be police officers anymore,” Miller explained. “Back in my day, there was 100 applications for one position open. Now, they’re barely floating in.”
Miller says that officers are also leaving Orange City to go elsewhere with better pay and benefits.
“They pay a little bit more, and we can’t compete with them. We’re not trying to compete with them. We want to stay regionally,” Miller said. “By the way, they are all very, very successful because we have got some excellent officers and excellent training here.”
To counteract officers leaving, Miller explained that the OCPD would be paying officers-in-training to go through the police academy before they are certified. This is in line with what police departments across the country are experiencing, Miller explained.
“We are bringing two people on that we know of for the May class. It doesn’t even start until May 15. That’s why I’m saying, ‘Oh my God, it’s like having a baby.’ It’s gonna be 10 months before we even see those people,” Miller laughed. “They want nothing more than to work in Orange City. So, they are going to be in class, but they are already hired by us.”
Miller’s goal is to continue hiring officers to fill the vacancies, especially in order to aid in critical sections of the city. He explicitly mentioned traffic, with the OCPD responding to a total of 917 crashes during 2022.
“We are committed to traffic safety,” Miller told The Beacon. “There are lots of incidents, injuries and fatalities. … We need to try to fix that best we can.”
Even amid a reduced force, the OCPD continues to celebrate its accomplishments. In 2022 alone, the department appointed its ninth police chief, hired three officers and one animal control employee, promoted three officers and restructured the three divisions in the agency.
The department is also highly focused on its future goals, with a heavy emphasis on filling vacant positions, constructing a new police station on East Ohio Avenue and attaining accreditation through the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation.
The new police station is at the front of Miller’s mind.
“Other than our facility, we do very well,” Miller told The Beacon.
Despite the seven vacancies, the OCPD isn’t worried, and they don’t want their citizens to worry either.