CAPE CORAL, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke in Cape Coral at the city police department. He held the event to provide $5,000 bonuses to Cape Coral officers who “got a baptism by fire” during Hurricane Ian.
The governor said he was excited about the progress made in South Florida to recover from the damages of Hurricane Ian, saying the Lee County schools should all be open by Oct. 18.
He said Fort Myers Beach had the power restored, but continuing rebuilding efforts may be a challenge in some areas.
During the event, DeSantis said he’d ensured support for law enforcement since taking office, while other parts of the country had pushed to defund police.
Explaining his reasons for supporting law enforcement, DeSantis said the state had drawn a hard line to be a law and order state, and that those who “wear the uniform” keep society from fraying by doing their jobs. He also said media attacks against law enforcement officers had been “damaging” and that those “risking their lives do not have the support” of politicians and communities “since the Floyd riots.”
“We said in Florida, we want to reward people who are going into this profession,” DeSantis said. “We want to value people who are going into this profession, so we enacted, I proposed and the legislature enacted, a program for recruitment bonuses for law enforcement personnel. So if you’re coming from one of those states or one of those cities where you’re not being treated well and you come to take a job in any of our departments, municipal, county, or state, any of the agencies in a law enforcement function, you qualify for a $5,000 bonus.”
DeSantis said it applied to Floridians entering the law enforcement field as well.
He was in Cape Coral to provide the $5,000 recruitment bonuses to officers who had moved to Florida before Hurricane Ian, and were now receiving the first checks for the 2022 recruitment program. DeSantis said 335 more checks “in the hopper” and were on their way to recruits in the near future.
“We are going to move heaven and earth to make sure this state remains a law and order state,” DeSantis said. “We’re not going to let them take it away from us.”
The governor also reminded those gathered about the $2 million law enforcement assistance program announced Thursday in Punta Gorda to help officers impacted by Hurricane Ian get back on their feet. He said the progress made to recover from the hurricane was something unique to Florida, which was owed to those responding to the hurricane’s damage.
The $2 million, split between four support organizations, would use the charitable arms of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, the the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the Florida Fraternal Order of Police, and the Florida Professional Firefighters would be used to help officers and first responders rebuild and handle “discreet needs” of individuals impacted by the storm.
DeSantis said the state would work together to provide for those in need and praised the effort and speed put into restoring power and rebuilding bridges, rather than having people “mired in bureaucracy” during hurricane recovery.
“We’ve been cutting through the bureaucracy at a record pace,” DeSantis said. “Even with FEMA and some of the federal agencies, they’ve been very responsive, I think if you look back 10 years ago at some of how this stuff was run, I think we’ve seen improvements across the board.”
He said they were mindful of the challenges, but that he was looking forward to proceeding and continuing the work. Cape Coral Police Chief Anthony Sizemore spoke next, praising DeSantis as the greatest governor the state has had. New officers spoke after their police chief, followed by Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Dane Eagle.
Eagle said the recruitment bonuses had actually arrived before the storm hit, and were higher than $5,000 each.
“Thanks to the governor’s leadership, it’s actually more than $5,000. We know the tax man cometh, we don’t want those armed IRS agents coming after them,” Eagle said. “So the check is actually over $6,000 to make sure you can pay your taxes.”
The DEO secretary reminded those gathered about the Hometown Heroes program, to allow first responders and law enforcement to receive assistance buying homes, which he said may be more important after the damage of Hurricane Ian. Then Sizemore delivered the recruitment checks.
DeSantis returned to the podium to talk about the bonuses approved by the legislature, saying that even the $1,000 bonuses for officers and first responders had been upgraded to $1,300 in a similar fashion to cover the taxes levied by the federal government. For checks lost in the mail due to Hurricane Ian, the governor said the payment checks would be reissued.
Then he weighed in again on the verdict in the sentencing trial for Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz. He reiterated his disappointment and the “sting” of the decision, which avoided the death penalty for Cruz.
“There’s still a lot of disappointment from yesterday’s verdict in the Parkland school shooting case, to deny the imposition of the death penalty for someone who massacred so many people in cold blood, and cut short so many young and vibrant and so full of potential,” DeSantis said. “It stings. It stings a lot of people, not only in that community, but really throughout the state and really throughout the country. I know that prosecutors are pursuing some things with the jury, and I think that they should do that. I think that this is something that, did you have jurors that were just never going to do this no matter what? That’s not the way this system is supposed to work. What was going on?”
DeSantis said any legal remedies should be pursued.
“I do think it was a miscarriage of justice, you’re going to be in a situation, the state of Florida has executed people in our history, who have committed really dastardly crimes, but crimes that didn’t reach this level of carnage,” DeSantis said. “And what? Somehow he’s going to be living on taxpayer expense for what? 50 years? 60 years? His victims didn’t get that luxury, to be able to live out those decades. I just think at some point, you have appropriate punishment. And if you have something like capital punishment available, in a case like that, it has got to be administered, that just shows how the community view s the severity of the offense.”
He said again that it stung, and he was disappointed, but was happy that prosecutors were continuing to look into ways “to get a different result.”
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” DeSantis said. “And when you have four and a half years that go into this, for what? Everybody knew that he did it. And I’m not saying he doesn’t get a lawyer or process, but what are you going to contest in this? That should be done in months, not years. Yet here we are, it’s taken all of this time, it happened before I was governor, and here we are more than four years later. That’s not how the justice system should operate.”
He said he wanted reforms to the justice system, aimed at doing more for victims than perpetrators of crimes.
“We need to do some reforms to be better serving victims of crimes, and the families of victims of crimes, and not just always bending over backwards to do everything we need to for perpetrators of crimes,” DeSantis said.
During a question and answer session, DeSantis said that applications being denied for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be affected by bureaucratic red tape, but that to his knowledge, denials had not been due to a suggestion by Vice President Kamala Harris that help be based on “equity.”
“If there are eligible people who are being denied for some type of external characteristic, that’s unacceptable and we will vigorously defend the people of this area,” DeSantis said.
Referring to insurance claims after the storm, DeSantis said some of the claims may be complicated due to the types of damage caused by Hurricane Ian. He said most of the damage, in his view, was water damage, though winds had done damage to areas like in Cape Coral or Fort Myers Beach. Still, he said flooding was the main damage type he had seen.
“Unfortunately, you’re going to have some people who were told you don’t live in a floodplain you don’t need flood insurance, so may be they bought a homeowners insurance policy, but maybe their damage was not because of the wind but because of the water,” DeSantis said. “So then they’re in a situation where they can get money from FEMA but that is not going to be commensurate with having the flood policy.”
He said some places in Cape Coral would require flood insurance to get a mortgage, but that some people had not had to, even if they had a mortgage.