Robert A. Rush
When Police Benevolent Association Chapter President Jody Branaman accused Alachua County Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr. of unfair labor practices and failure to bargain in good faith, I found that very hard to believe. The opinion piece did not contain any specific grievances.
Watson is a true law enforcement advocate. He started as a patroller over 30 years ago. He served in all police officer positions and finished as deputy police chief for the city of Alachua. He then became city manager, where he led the city with over 120 employees, including its police department, while creating a strong new tax base for the city through his leadership skills.
So, with skepticism, I decided to research the actual offers made during negotiations with the union.
The union wanted a 2.5% raise. In response, Watson increased wages by 3%. The package included two additional paid holidays and a $2,000 education allowance. It seems the only real disagreement was Watson’s new policy of requiring new deputies to live in Alachua County if they wanted to drive their service vehicles home.
Over the past three years, police departments across the country have lost a record number of officers. Many factors beyond local control are the cause, including protests against the police, the COVID pandemic and a wave of police retirements that began in the 1990s.
As for the crime rate, it’s actually dropped 3.3% here in Alachua County, and violent crime is down nationwide. To say that public safety has been threatened is flat out false.
Watson took over a demoralized police department when he was overwhelmingly elected sheriff just 15 months ago. Positive changes can be seen throughout the department, especially in the high morale of our excellent Deputy Sheriffs. This not only benefited the sheriff’s department, but all of Alachua County.
Robert A. Rush is a Gainesville attorney.
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