Keystone Heights exploring options to beef up police patrols

City council mulling creating its own department, getting more deputies from CCSO

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KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – The City Council is once again mulled the idea of creating its own police department before deciding to find ways to pay for additional deputies from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.

The council asked Town Manager Scott Kornegay last month to explore how it could be done. Kornegay invited Clay County School District Police Department Chief of Police Kenneth Wagner to Monday’s meeting to walk the council through the process.

“Believe it or not, this is not that difficult, and it came to my surprise, to start a police department,” Wagner said. “Now there’s some costs with it, but to actually start it is a simple process.”

Wagner said the process begins with a proclamation from the city council declaring the intent to start a police department. That goes to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. If approved by them, it goes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Virginia and their approval creates the police department. That process is the simple part, Wagner said.

Next comes hiring officers and finding a space, which Wagner said requires a lot of logistics. The city would need a police department building and it would have to explore Memorandums of Understanding to possibly establish partnerships with surrounding departments like those of Starke and the Clay County Sheriff’s Office.

CCSO currently handles law enforcement in Keystone Heights with three deputies on patrol.

Wagner said the department would likely need a chief, three sergeants and 14 officers for a total of 18 officers.

“This doesn’t include the people you would need to hire for clerical work like archiving reports,” Wagner said.

A city staff member could handle that to reduce costs. Wagner used school department’s costs to estimate a cost for Keystone Heights. Officers could start at $40,000 a year, but with benefits and uniform costs that price would level out at $56,000.

“That’s what you’d be paying [each officer],” Wagner said.

The Keystone Height City Council didn’t appear to be in favor of starting a police department. The discussion began after council members decided the city could use more police coverage, especially in the areas surrounding the actual city limits.

Starting a police department is not ideal, council member Tony Brown said. He’d rather the city look into the cost of requesting additional CCSO coverage.

“I personally as a taxpayer don’t want to pay more in taxes [for this police department],” Brown said.

The council agreed and requested that city staff look into the costs associated with having additional CCSO coverage in the city and surrounding areas.

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