Law enforcement on Volusia County’s beaches is officially in the hands of Sheriff Mike Chitwood.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 1595 on Thursday, which says that only sheriffs have the authority to maintain law enforcement operations in unincorporated areas of a county (such as the beaches).
Major shift in law enforcement
For years Volusia County government’s Beach Safety division officers have provided law enforcement services on Volusia County’s coast, but now their law enforcement capacity has ended.
In a Thursday night Facebook post, the sheriff’s office wrote that deputies and Beach Safety officers have already been working together closely in anticipation of the law taking effect and that today, “the transition becomes official now that the bill has been signed into law.”
Beach Safety will continue to manage the beach and provide lifeguard and emergency medical services to beachgoers while the county sheriff’s deputies will take care of law enforcement.
The law change brought some acrimony between Beach Safety and the sheriff’s office over key issues such as whether public safety would be at risk if the law was passed. Each Beach Safety officer was triple-certified as a lifeguard, EMT, and law enforcement officer.
Beach Safety union spokesman Bryon White and Sheriff Mike Chitwood shared dueling editorials on the issue in the News-Journal. White called the beach takeover issue a “power grab” by the sheriff and accused him of lobbying for the legislation. Chitwood denied that and said the change would make Volusia beaches safer.
In anticipation of the law change, the sheriff’s office has already been patrolling county beaches.
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The sheriff is hiring Beach Safety officers. The sheriff’s office estimated up to 20 would transfer over to the sheriff’s office, but it’s not clear if they would be reassigned to the beach.
Meanwhile, the county is dealing with a lifeguard shortage.
The sheriff’s office has 12 deputies on the day shift and two deputies assigned to the beach and two sergeants in the area for the night shift, according to sheriff’s office spokesman Andrew Gant. On both shifts the sheriff’s office will add more deputies if the need arises.
The county typically had 20-24 Beach Safety officers patrolling the beaches in the day during the summer and three officers at night, Beach Safety Director Andy Ethridge told the County Council in April.