Justin Ferrara/Guest Column to the Chronicle
Recently, Florida’s growing population surpassed New York, making us the nation’s third most populous state. Citrus County has shared in Central Florida’s evolution from a largely rural region to a flourishing community where tourism and urbanization contribute to our economic revitalization, while simultaneously straining our infrastructure system.
We are all endeavoring to accommodate the stressors of an ever-growing population. According to the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research (2018), Citrus County’s population could increase by over 10% to reach 161,100 residents by 2030. The bureau estimates the state of Florida may exceed 22 million residents as early as 2022.
Additionally, surrounding counties such as Marion, Sumter, and Hernando will all experience significant population increases during the same period. The upcoming completion of the Suncoast Parkway’s expansion into our community, and its subsequent move to the north, will transform the landscape of Citrus County.
Florida’s progress brings both opportunities and potential challenges as Citrus County finds itself at a crucial crossroads trying to balance development and maintaining our natural resources.
The Citrus County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO) is responsible for implementing the dynamic standards of today’s law enforcement profession, as set forth by the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. These benchmarks include: Building Trust and Legitimacy; Policy and Oversight; Technology and Social Media; Community Policing and Crime Reduction; Training and Education; and Officer Safety and Wellness.
It will be vital for the CCSO to formulate expansion plans for personnel, facilities, and capital improvements to meet the prospective demand for services.
Currently, law enforcement agencies across the state are competing against each other for a limited pool of candidates to fulfill their needs. For perspective, many of the future individuals entering into public safety careers in 2030 are presently attending primary school.
The time for us to work towards retaining homegrown talent and recruiting the finest to come to Citrus County begins now. This may be demonstrated through expanded Explorer programs and focus on establishing public safety education tracks early in our schools as well as aggressive recruitment concepts.
Recruitment techniques, employment benefits, competitive salaries and social media will be vastly different in the upcoming decade, and agencies will have to adapt strategies to make certain they are maintaining the most current engagement practices to attain skilled personnel.
Due to the shifting infrastructure of Central Florida and the need for a competitive benefits package, future employees may reside outside of Citrus County. However, public safety, in conjunction with local business and commerce groups, should work to entice future personnel and their families to live in Citrus County by promoting our community’s affordability and career opportunities. Further, organizations must ensure employees receive continuous professional development within their disciplines through college education and advanced/specialty training.
Public safety needs to also address issues with mental wellness and line-of-duty deaths confronting our profession since officer suicide is the leading cause of death of law enforcement officers nationwide. Accordingly, it is incumbent on all agencies (including Fire Rescue and EMS) to make mental health resources and the treatment of post-traumatic stress symptoms both available and a focal concern for first responders in 2030 and in the years preceding.
Included in our public safety commitment is the preparation for responding to acts of domestic terrorism and active assailants whose objectives are mass casualties and fear. The FBI has characterized 27 shootings across 16 states during 2018 as active shooter incidents where 85 lives were lost and 128 were wounded. The foundation to establishing proper tactics and strategies is pivotal on partnerships with the entire Citrus County first responder community and shared intelligence with federal, state, local agencies and judicial resources.
Public safety must remain as an exemplary model of our community’s strength and resilience.
Regardless of where we work or reside in Citrus County, we all share in the successes and difficulties moving towards 2030 and beyond. Preparation, communication, and working diligently to preemptively inhibit vulnerabilities are the initial steps in ensuring we leave Citrus County in a better position for future generations to enjoy.
For more information about Citrus 2030 and to register for its Vision Check, visit www.citrus2030.org.
Major Justin Ferrara is a law enforcement professional with the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office since 2000 who has progressed through the ranks from patrol deputy to leading the agency’s Law Enforcement Operations.