Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan says that his deputies will no longer escort funeral processions beginning October 1, the latest casualty of a war with county officials over the sheriff’s budget.
In a letter to area funeral homes, Morgan said he does not have enough deputies to continue providing the service. Morgan’s office has said that low deputy pay has fueled high attrition among deputies, with the sheriff’s office losing 62 deputies this year and expecting to lose a similar number this year. Morgan has sought a $3.3 million increase in his budget, in part to cover pay raises, and has threatened numerous cuts in service if county commissioners don’t give him the money.
The longtime Southern tradition will continue within the Pensacola city limits, however.
“The Pensacola Police Department will continue to provide funeral escorts for funerals which originate in the city limits, no matter where the burial location is,” said department spokeman Officer Mike Wood.
In an interview Thursday with NewsRadio 1620, Pensacola police chief Tommi Lyter acknowledged that the department has performed fewer funeral escorts in recent years due to manpower issues.
“Actually, we’ve had to reduce our escorts by about 50 percent,” Lyter said.
County commissioners on Tuesday voted to move forward with a plan to give all county employees, including sheriff’s deputies, a three percent raise. But that plan doesn’t include funds Morgan has requested to address his office’s pay compression issues, and he’s threatened to appeal the budget to Governor Rick Scott unless commissioner give him everything he’s requested.
Morgan was highly critical of commissioners during an interview on NewsRadio 1620 Wednesday morning.
“The county commission is still haggling back and forth, and to be quite honest with you, that’s like a flag flapping in the breeze,” Morgan said in reference to Tuesday’s commission meeting. “A few weeks ago there was a $5 million shortfall, there would be no county raises at all, now they’ve magically recovered from the $5 million deficit to now have found $3.7 million, and it’s not to repair the sheriff’s budget but it’ll probably be used for county raises across the board. So who knows.”
Morgan’s office has used public dollars to lobby commissioners, purchasing billboards around the county which encourage residents to “help fight crime” and “support the ECSO pay raises” by contacting their county commissioner. Those billboards are funded from the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Trust Fund, or LETF, which includes seized money and other contraband that has been used in the commissions of felonies. Morgan has been criticized throughout his tenure for his LETF expenditures, which have included sizable donations to private organizations with no law enforcement connection as well as billboards which included his likeness during his reelection campaign last year.
A state attorney review last year of the sheriff’s LETF expenditures found that Morgan hadn’t broken the law, but recommended a number of changes to the LETF process to increase oversight.
While LETF dollars can’t be used to pay deputy salaries, the funds used for billboards and donations could have been spent on training, equipment, and other needs, which in turn could have freed up dollars from the sheriff’s general fund.
Morgan addressed the LETF criticism in the NewsRadio 1620 interview.
“The county commission’s refusal to identify that there is a problem, and you know, you want to go after the LET Fund, that’s all well and fine, that’s why we’re going to the governor,” Morgan said.