More than a dozen NYPD cops have ditched the Big Apple to join the force in a small Florida city — part of a nationwide trend of disgruntled officers finding greener pastures in pro-police communities.
Lakeland — a community of 108,000 people 35 miles east of Tampa — mounted a social media campaign targeting NYC cops earlier this year, and in April dispatched a delegation to recruit in Times Square.
Fourteen former Finest moved to Lakeland in the past year — 12 of them wooed over the past two months thanks to the recruiting trip.
The respect accorded cops in Florida “was an eye opener,” former NYPD cop Matthew Spoto said at a September press conference after heeding Lakeland’s call of duty.
In New York, “it was almost like I was ashamed to be a law enforcement officer,” he said.
A Lakeland recruiter told him “that you could park your police vehicles in front of your house … I thought that was mind-blowing,” Spoto said, contending that the “tools and laws” given NYC cops don’t allow them to succeed.
The 14 former NYPD officers represent nearly 6 percent of Lakeland’s entire force of 254 cops.
NYPD officers start out earning $42,500 per year, according to city data. The minimum PD salary in Lakeland is $53,000 following a pay raise earlier this year, the Lakeland Ledger reported.
Work in Florida also comes without the burdens of city or state income taxes — a fact Lakeland recruiters emphasized on their recruiting trip.
There is little data tracking law enforcement migration from state to state, but “anecdotal evidence” suggests that cops are fleeing blue states like New York, said a spokesperson for the National Association of Police Organizations.
“Many New York City cops are weighing our sub-standard salary against the ever-increasing challenges, scrutiny and abuse, and they’re voting with their feet,” Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Lynch told The Post.
“They don’t even need to go all the way to Florida. There are many better-paying police departments in and around NYC, and they’re hiring,” said Lynch. “We certainly don’t blame anybody for leaving. But New York City needs to wake up,” said Lynch.
The PBA’s data confirm the escape from New York. Cops who quit before their 20-year retirement period more than doubled in 2021 compared with 2020 (1,051 vs. 509).
Retirements are down from 2020 (1,629 vs. 2,529), but only after a record number of cops cut out amid last year’s pandemic chaos. Retirements are still well above the numbers reported in recent years, the PBA says.
The union does not track the destinations of cops who leave for other jurisdictions. But Florida has been high on the list, sources said.
Mayor de Blasio’s executive-order vaccine mandate has been the latest trigger for some cops amid what they describe as a hostile legal, social and political environment. States such as Florida responded by rolling out the red carpet.
“No cop, no firefighter, no nurse, nobody should be losing their jobs because of these jabs,” Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday, underscoring the more welcome environment cops find in his state.
DeSantis gave all his state’s first responders a $1,000 pandemic bonus in May and recently announced plans to introduce in the next legislative session a $5,000 bonus for out-of-state cops to relocate.
The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office in Washington state recently targeted New York’s Finest with an ad in Times Square offering a $15,000 signing bonus, while citing the city’s anti-cop environment and vaccine mandate.
And Alaska governor Mike Dunleavy invited cops via Twitter last month to “consider the 49th state, where we back the blue.” Indiana Senator Mike Braun offered a similar Twitter invite to disgruntled cops.