Winter Park Police budget jumps nearly 8% with more officers, equipment
New tasers designed to give officers better odds at subduing combative people as the department also looks to more cameras and technology to improve efficiency
Sept. 29, 2023
By Beth Kassab
[Note: This story has been updated to include additional context about crime statistics.]
New tasers, a central dashboard of surveillance cameras and two new positions are driving increased costs at the Winter Park Police Department, which accounts for the largest piece — nearly a quarter — of the city’s $77 million general fund.
The department’s budget will grow nearly 8% to more than $18 million, up from $16.8 million this year.
Chief Tim Volkerson said the changes will allow the department to maintain its high standards and improve how officers respond to calls or conduct criminal investigations as call for service shot up 14% from 2021 to 2022 and nearly 20% since 2020, when calls lagged significantly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Traffic crashes are still below pre-pandemic levels, but are trending up again. Calls related to Baker and Marchman acts, which are related to individuals who are struggling with mental illness or drug addition, are up nearly 7%.
A key enhancement will be the addition of a sworn officer position, bringing the department’s total to 83 sworn positions. A second civilian community service officer will be hired in 2024.
Volkerson said the department will maintain its quality benchmarks even as his agency and others across the country are struggling to find good candidates for the job.
That means WPPD will not, for example, drop its requirement for officers to complete a timed physical agility test as other departments have done.
“We haven’t changed our hiring standards,” he said.
Four positions are currently unfilled, though Volkerson said candidates are being processed and he expects to make new hires in the next month or so.
A second civilian community service officer, part of a program that started last year, is slated to begin in the Spring.
Volkerson said that program has been a “tremendous success” because the officer, who doesn’t carry a firearm, can respond to minor traffic incidents or nonviolent calls. That frees up sworn officers to handle other cases.
Officers are also carrying new tasers with upgraded features that make it easier to aim the electronic prongs at a subject because the taser projects two laser dots — one for each prong — onto the target instead of just one. A flick of the officer’s wrist can adjust the aim of the prongs based on how close the officer is to the subject.
The tasers also provide two chances for the officer to fire at the subject rather than a single shot followed by a cumbersome reloading process.
“If you miss with the first one, all you have to do is pull the trigger again,” Volkerson said, noting that the new technology also means an officer’s body camera automatically turns on when a taser is drawn.
That technology could mean life or death for some people who are being confronted by police. In 2022, a Winter Park officer shot and killed Daniel Knight, 39, after the officer attempted to fire his taser, but missed and the confrontation continued to escalate. Knight, who was intoxicated and refused officer’s commands to step away from his sister before striking an officer, died at his niece’s wedding reception at the Winter Park Events Center.
Volkerson would not comment on whether he thought the upgraded tasers could have made a difference in the case of Knight because the family told the city it plans to file a lawsuit and the internal affairs investigation is still incomplete.
In another move to improve safety and aid criminal investigations, the department is continuing to upgrade a network of camera feeds, both public and private, from across the city into a real-time crime center.
The project, which Volkerson said started during the pandemic, is undergoing a $600,000 upgrade to overlay map data along with computer-aided dispatch information across 16 monitors.
“It will expedite intelligence gathering and provide greater efficiency of response to critical incidents and criminal investigations as they unfold,” stated the budget proposal.
So far the system includes the city’s cameras that monitor public spaces as well as cameras from the Orange County Public School System, Rollins College and private businesses who opt into the program. Businesses and residents can register their cameras with the police department and select the level of access and monitoring they want — such as only during emergency calls or more frequently.
Volkerson said the video network has already aided responses. For example, officers were able to monitor a vehicle fire at a public housing complex and guide crews to the exact location. In another case, patrol officers spotted a stolen car and it happened to stop in front of a camera. The feed allowed the department to watch as officers conducted a felony stop and monitor the wider scene, which enabled the officers making the stop to focus on the driver.
Red light cameras will also continue to be part of the city’s traffic enforcement. Six cameras at intersections are in place today and the department plans to add two more in coordination with the Florida Department of Transportation. The new locations are not yet available.
This summer a new state law took effect that allows speed cameras in school zones that would trigger mailed tickets similar to the red light cameras. Winter Park plans to begin using those as well, though the exact locations and timing are not yet finalized, Volkerson said.
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