Tuesday, June 22, 2021

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Sheriff offers grim stats on turnover to prime the pump for proposed raises

The prospect of a 5-percent pay raise for each of the sheriff’s sworn officers is perhaps one of the boldest proposals in the budget which Alamance County’s manager Bryan Hagood floated before the county’s board of commissioners on Monday.

But in making this plea on behalf of the sheriff’s subordinates, Hagood was able to travel a path that had already been worn flat for him thanks to the timely intercession of Alamance County’s sheriff’s Terry Johnson.

Immediately before the county manager’s pitch to the commissioners, Johnson approached the county’s governing board with a report on the high cost that he said his office incurs to hire and train its new deputies, jailers, and school resource officers. The sheriff went on to add that the seemingly daunting expenditure on each new employee is compounded by the growing number of vacancies that he said his office has witnessed as deputies and jailers defect to other agencies that offer better compensation.

Johnson added that the problem with wage-related turnover has been especially severe at his detention division, which he credited with roughly three quarters of the 42 vacancies that his agency had when the work week began.

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“We’re currently way low on personnel at the detention center with 31 openings,” the sheriff informed the commissioners on Monday evening, “and today we had two more resignations in detention.”

Johnson went on to tally up the funds that he said his agency must shell out whenever it enlists a new hire to fill one of its vacancies. He told the commissioners that the cost of pre-employment screening and tests, including a polygraph, runs about $1,917 for each candidate. Johnson said that his office spends another $9,637 on basic training for each new detention officer and $21,533 for every incoming deputy. Meanwhile, the sheriff’s office invests an additional $15,607 into each jailer’s field training to cover the salaries for both the trainee and his or her mentor, while it costs $24,971 to provide the same hands-on experience for every new deputy.

In the end, Johnson told the commissioners that he expects to spend $684,987 to fill the 31 vacancies in his detention division and another $507,068 to fully prepare the 11 new deputies that his patrol division is currently seeking. All told, the said that it will set his office back $1,192,055 to fill its 42 vacancies.

Johnson went on to bemoan the relatively low wages that he said are causing many of his more experienced subordinates to defect to better paying positions at other law enforcement agencies. To ram the point home, he compared the $34,917 that an entry level deputy makes at his own agency with the starting salary of $41,213 that Burlington’s police force offers its officers. Johnson also pointed to higher entry wages at the sheriff’s offices in Guilford, Orange, and Durham counties, which he said pay their new deputies salaries of $40,425, $41,026, and $49,292 respectively.

“What I’m trying to point out to you folks is that, if we cannot retain these people, we are paying more [to replace them] than what a raise will be,” the sheriff exclaimed. “We’re not being able to retain these officers because they’re going [elsewhere] for more money…We have got to do something, and I am asking you commissioners to please, please, please look at what’s going on with us.”

Johnson’s pitch to the commissioners on Monday was eerily similar to a harangue about turnover that he delivered in January. The focus of the sheriff’s earlier spiel had been departures among his deputies, which compelled the commissioners to approve a mid-year budget amendment to add eight more positions to the sheriff’s patrol division. Four of these extra hires were slated for a new “strike force” that the U.S. Attorney’s office was trying to muster.

On Monday, Johnson left it to the county manager to spell out the proposal that he hoped would give his office a leg up in the inter-agency competition for high-caliber deputies and jailers. To this end, Bryan Hagood suggested an outlay of $877,359 to fund the aforementioned 5-percent raises for every sworn deputy, jailer, and school resource officer in the sheriff’s employ.

Johnson, for his part, went on to warn of the potential repercussions should his agency remain short-handed because of salary-related defections. He cautioned that, in the case of his detention division, continuing turnover may even endanger the lucrative contracts that he has brokered with the U.S. Marshals Service and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house their respective detainees.

“If we lose many more officers, guess what the sheriff’s gonna have to do?” he added. “He’s going to have to send all the U.S. Marshals’ inmates out, all of the ICE inmates out, and that’s going to hurt the county.”

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