State Attorney Monique Worrell came to Kissimmee on Thursday, along with the Ninth Judicial Circuit’s community engagement team, for a town hall meeting that included Kissimmee Police Chief Jeff O’Dell and St. Cloud Police Chief Douglas Goerke.
Attendees of the town hall meeting, which took place at the BVL Library, were invited to submit questions and suggestions for how the State Attorney’s office can better serve the community.
One of the topics discussed at the town hall was the Opioid crisis and whether it has worsened since last year.
“Honestly, I haven’t actually pulled the numbers, but it certainly feels worse than last year. We supply our officers with Narcan as do all three agencies in Osceola County, but that’s really a temporary fix until the Fire Department can get there,” Kissimmee Police Chief Jeff O’Dell said during the meeting.
Another subject discussed during the meeting was whether local law enforcement agencies have been experiencing recruiting and retention issues with regard to staff.
“Across the nation, recruiting and retaining law enforcement is always a challenge, and St. Cloud Police Department is no different than any others. We do have a few vacancies, but not as many as larger cities. Right now, we only have four vacancies,” St. Cloud Police Chief Doug Goerke shared. “Obviously the process is rigorous, we don’t want to put people in uniform that shouldn’t be out there.”
When asked what keeps State Attorney up at night she answered, “the crushing caseloads on my staff, and the overwhelm that they feel keeping up with their caseloads on a daily basis, their mental health and wellness given the nature of a lot of things they have to see and deal with, the burnout that comes quickly. These are a few things that keep me up at night.”
The State Attorney also shared about the challenge she has had recruiting qualified attorneys for her office. “It has been an extreme problem. When I took office, the starting salary for an assistant State Attorney or public defender was $50,000 a year, and that was a salary that was deemed to be acceptable, people were coming to work for that salary, and people were staying. The pandemic brought something that changed the economy significantly and what we found was that a lot of attorneys were able to go out into the private sector and make double that right out of law school, State Attorney Monique Worrell said.
The State Attorney said she has asked the Florida Legislature for additional funding for starting attorneys in hopes that it will help them retain attorneys at the State Attorney’s office. According to the State Attorney the legislature agreed to a $5000 one-time bonus and a 5% pay increase.
“If we cannot recruit and retain prosecutors in our office, we have exactly what we have now, a backlog of cases, and a lack of experienced attorneys to handle them,” the state attorney went on to say.