The executive director of Florida’s Police Benevolent Association, Matt Puckett, is calling for state lawmakers to allocate funding to improve the most vital piece of equipment police officers carry: their radios.
For years, Florida’s aging Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS) has been in dire need of an upgrade of not only the radio handsets carried by patrol officers, but the underlying network infrastructure installed around Florida.
Last year, the state awarded a $688 million contract to Motorola Solutions to do just that, but the company later balked at signing the contract, leaving law enforcement officials wondering when they might see new investment in the system they rely on to keep themselves, and Florida’s citizens, safe.
“There is nothing more critical for our law enforcement officers than the ability to communicate with and coordinate with each other as they respond to every situation imaginable around our state,” said PBA Executive Director Matt Puckett. “Our officers need an uninterrupted communications network and new, modern radios as the state looks for longer term solutions with the State Law Enforcement Radio System (SLERS).”
While Governor Ron DeSantis‘s newly released $96.6 billion budget recommendations didn’t include a line item for SLERS upgrades, he did recommend funding for upgraded handsets for some agencies.
But the ultimate decision on funding levels for new radios and infrastructure is in the hands of state lawmakers. Against the backdrop of last summer’s civil unrest, some Democratic state lawmakers are calling for restrictions on certain “military-grade” police equipment, which includes rifles, body armor and even certain types of armored vehicles for SWAT team use.
Democratic State Representatives Travaris McCurdy and Angie Dixon filed legislation this week in the Florida House to prohibit local law enforcement agencies from acquiring certain surplus military equipment and prohibit use of certain munitions & tear gas. However, the procurement of radio handsets and upgrades to the SLERS infrastructure would not be prohibited under the bill.
Through a spokesman, McCurdy declined to comment for this story.
Republican State Representative Jason Shoaf, who sits on both the Government Operations and Ways and Means committee, was outspoken about the need for reliable law enforcement radios.
“The safety of our citizens and those who wear the uniform depends on a strong, reliable and well-funded communications system,” Shoaf told The Capitolist. “We cannot expect our law enforcement officers to put their lives at risk to save ours without the proper funding and equipment.”
Puckett, for his part, plans to keep pushing lawmakers to adequately fund the system upgrade and more radio handsets.
“We encourage our elected leaders to fully fund the continued operation of SLERS during this legislative session, and to provide resources for new radios for our frontline state law enforcement officers,” said Puckett. “Our officers on the street have been using outdated radios for too long, that needs to change this session with adequate funding.”
The 2021 Legislative Session opens March 2nd and will run for approximately sixty days.