LABELLE, Fla. — Hendry County is a vast rural area, so the sheriff’s office says it’s been hard for law enforcement to cover all the space. Now, they say they’ve responded with a significant boost to the force - here’s what’s changing.
The Sheriff's Office says they’re set to welcome fifteen new deputies, marking an approximate forty-percent increase in the force's size. Notably, ten of these new hires will be hitting the streets to patrol on roads like Case Road, areas that have been sites of tragic incidents in the past. In September, I reported on a hit and run there that killed 15-year-old, Eduardo Escobedo, as he was riding his bike. The Sheriff’s Office says this incident has been a catalyst for calls for increased road safety and law enforcement presence.
Every day, Laura Escobedo, Eduardo's aunt, passes by the memorial for Eduardo. "It’s so scary to see children on the side of the road knowing that their life can be claimed by someone that’s reckless like the person that killed my nephew," she expressed.
Escobedo doesn’t think the accident has changed how people drive on the road, either. “People are driving like they need to get somewhere and people’s lives aren’t as important," she added.
Since the accident, the people living in this area have been asking for more law enforcement. Escobedo believes that having more patrols in this area could have saved her nephews life. “If there was more police activity, maybe they would obey the law,” said Escobedo.
The community’s push for more speed enforcement and police presence has been acknowledged by Sheriff Steve Whidden. "When we add deputies it will definitely make a difference. People will see more deputies, more patrol units in their neighborhoods, on the highways, and on the roads," Sheriff Whidden commented.
Sheriff Whidden says the population in Hendry County has been rising, and so have the property taxes. So, part of the increased budget has gone to hiring new deputies.
Whidden says his goal is to have deputies zoned in specific areas around the clock to enhance law enforcement coverage and safety.
However, the Sheriff also noted that the county is still approximately fifteen deputies short of meeting the actual needs of the population, which is larger than official records indicate due to undocumented workers. Despite these challenges, families like the Escobedos view the addition of new deputies as a positive step forward. "Eduardo would be very proud of his family that we’re making changes. We need to continue to stick together and make positive changes," Laura Escobedo said, fighting back tears.