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DeSantis $13.5m police program lures officers with violent records to Florida

Governor’s incentive scheme recruits officers with history of excessive violence or who have been arrested since signing up Ron DeSantis, wh...

Governor’s incentive scheme recruits officers with history of excessive violence or who have been arrested since signing up

Ron DeSantis, who is expected to launch his campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination this week, launched the program to attract officers frustrated by Covid-19 mandates.

Ron DeSantis, who is expected to launch his presidential campaign, has sought to attract officers frustrated by Covid-19 mandates. Photograph: Paul Hennessy/Sopa Images/Shutterstock

Numerous police officers lured to new jobs in Florida with cash from Governor Ron DeSantis’s flagship law enforcement relocation program have histories of excessive violence or have been arrested for crimes including kidnapping and murder since signing up, a study of state documents has found.

DeSantis, who is expected to launch his campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination this week, has spent more than $13.5m to date on the recruitment bonus program, which he touted in 2021 as an incentive to officers in other states frustrated by Covid-19 vaccination mandates.

“This will go a long way to ensuring we can have the best and the brightest filling our law enforcement ranks,” Florida’s Republican attorney general, Ashley Moody, said in April last year as DeSantis announced one-time $5,000 bonuses for new recruits.

However, among the almost 600 officers who moved to Florida and received the bonus – or were recruited in state – are a sizable number who either arrived with a range of complaints against them, or have since accrued criminal charges, the online media outlet Daily Dot has discovered.

They include a former trainee deputy with the Escambia county sheriff’s office charged with murdering her husband; an officer with the Miramar police department fired for domestic battery and kidnapping; and a former member of the New York police department (NYPD) who was hired by the Palm Beach police department having once been accused of an improper sexual proposition.

That officer, named by the Daily Dot as Daniel Meblin, was also part of a $160,000 settlement by the NYPD for violence at a 2020 protest against the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd in which officers were accused of beating Black males without provocation.

A Palm Beach police spokesperson told the Daily Dot that Meblin – who had complaints against him including abuse of authority and sexually propositioning a teenager – had disclosed his background during the hiring process, according to the NYPD watchdog

He has been an “exemplary” officer since he was hired in October 2022, the same month he left the NYPD, the spokesperson said, while denying a request to allow Meblin to be interviewed.

The Daily Dot compiled its report from state records it obtained from the Florida department of economic opportunity through a Freedom of Information Act request. The undated document lists payments of more than $8.8m split between 1,310 newly hired officers, with most receiving $6,693.44 from the signing-on and additional bonuses.

In a press release earlier this month, DeSantis announced the program had since grown to more than 2,000 officers, with a parallel rise in cost to more than $13.5m.

“To date, 595 law enforcement recruits from 49 states and US territories have relocated to Florida, including more than 215 recruits from California, Texas, New York, and Pennsylvania,” the statement said.

For its report, the Daily Dot matched information from the 50-a and NYPD databases, as well as published media reports, to officers’ names listed by the state.

It says it uncovered “an exodus” of officers to Florida law enforcement agencies from the NYPD in the wake of a backlash against the department for its brutal handling of racial justice protests in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Among them were at least two dozen officers whose names matched those on the NYPD’s civilian complaint review board database, including some who, according to those complaints, “unlawfully pepper sprayed, assaulted, and pointed their firearms at suspects, as well as used chokeholds and offensive language regarding race and ethnicity”.

civil rights lawsuit filed in 2018 against former NYPD sergeant Haitham Hussameldin alleged the officer used physical violence against a teenager on her way to school. Hussameldin, now employed by Florida’s Manapalan police department, accrued six formal complaints, including “multiple allegations of abuse of authority and overuse of physical force”, in New York, the Daily Dot said. All the complaints were withdrawn or unsubstantiated.

Another former New York officer now employed in Florida was involved in two deaths, one of which led to a $100,000 civil settlement, the Daily Dot reported. And in October 2022, the Apopka police department hired as an officer Justin Burgos, 19, the son of a retired NYPD deputy inspector, who a year earlier was charged with reckless endangerment, reckless driving and obstruction of governmental administration for driving his car into protesters in Manhattan calling for the firing of an officer accused of beating a Black suspect.

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