SHALIMAR — The Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office has begun restructuring due to another budget reduction of $528,000 for the 2012/2013 fiscal year. This latest cut comes on top of a 17 percent or $5.5 million dollar reduction in the office's budget during the past three years.

The restructuring includes eliminating civilian and higher level supervisory positions to keep more deputies on the streets and lessen the degree of operational disruptions.

The changes include the elimination of five sworn and thirteen civilian positions. The Environmental Enforcement Unit will be shelved and those deputies will be assigned to Central District Patrol, where the need is greatest. In addition, the patrol division will transition to a watch commander formation, with four patrol lieutenants instead of six. The separate jobs of information technology director and judicial process lieutenant have been combined.

“The Board of County Commissioners ... approved another $528,000 reduction in our budget,” Sheriff  Larry Ashley said. "Budget reductions combined with expenditure increases require that we undergo another reduction in force. This continued reduction in public safety resources is a tremendous challenge to an agency that already operates at less than half the cost and with 38 percent [fewer] officers per capita than other agencies in the U.S. serving similar size populations.

Ashley said, "In addition, we’ve had a 13 percent increase in calls for service, record-breaking tourist populations, and a 26 percent jump in violent crime.

"Based on the ever-growing demands on this agency and its vital public safety function 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, our residents should know that I consider the people we laid off ... as professionals essential to this agency and the community we serve. Their absence will make our public safety mission much more difficult to achieve.

"I thank each of them for their years of faithful service to this agency and its citizens and wish all of them well in future endeavors," he said.

Sworn positions eliminated include the Special Operations captain; Youth Services lieutenant; two patrol lieutenants;  and the judicial process lieutenant. Civilian positions eliminated include the information technology director; crime scene/ID supervisor; information technology clerk fleet/garage supervisor; Human Resources clerk; Criminal Investigations clerk; two communications dispatchers; the records management clerk; two court screeners; and a crime prevention specialist.