Archive for Monday, July 2, 2007

Sheriff aims to correct shortage of jail officers

July 2, 2007


New Douglas County corrections officers, from front left, Megan Walker and Amber Davatz practice positioning for the Heimlich maneuver with sheriff's officer and instructor Deb Porter during training at the Douglas County Jail. In background at center are new corrections officers Dereck Martinez, left, and Brett Larve. The Douglas County Jail is experiencing its highest shortage of corrections officers in six years.

New Douglas County corrections officers, from front left, Megan Walker and Amber Davatz practice positioning for the Heimlich maneuver with sheriff's officer and instructor Deb Porter during training at the Douglas County Jail. In background at center are new corrections officers Dereck Martinez, left, and Brett Larve. The Douglas County Jail is experiencing its highest shortage of corrections officers in six years.

The Douglas County Jail is experiencing its biggest shortage of corrections officers in six years.

It's a dilemma reflecting a national trend that law enforcement agencies face: retaining and recruiting officers in jobs that don't pay well but require long hours and regularly expose employees to danger.

The issue was one of many that Sheriff Ken McGovern weighed in on at the National Sheriffs' Association Conference and Exhibition, which he attended last week in Salt Lake City.

"We want to get the people as fast as we can, but we want to hire the quality people and the right people for us," McGovern said.

Finding those people can be a challenge, said Jen Carlson, a Douglas County corrections officer.

"One of the things here is it takes a special breed of person to do what we do," Carlson said. "You get to see the worst sides of human nature, and a lot of people, I think, don't have the stomach for that."

Since January, three officers have left the jail. Seven new officers are in training, said Lt. Dave Dillon, who oversees the facility's operations. When those officers come on the job at the end of August, staffing levels should return to normal.

Difficult timing

"It's coming at the wrong time of year," Dillon said. "We still need to keep in mind that people need (time) off; they need to get away."

During summer, the jail does its best to accommodate jailers' vacation requests, Dillon said, with typically no more than two to three officers gone from one shift at a time. The jail usually has 12 officers on duty during its day shift and about 10 at night. Days are broken into two 12-hour shifts, and overtime is available on both a voluntary and mandatory basis.

"When it gets down to three, four days before that (next) month starts, then I have one of the sergeants who does the scheduling assign the mandatory (overtime)," Dillon said.

Citing security concerns, Dillon and McGovern declined to state the jail's required guard-to-inmate ratio. The facility has a capacity of about 150 inmates, and prisoners are farmed out to other counties when the jail population exceeds that.

In 2004, the average inmate population was 150, but that number has increased each year since. So far this year, an average of 30 inmates are housed elsewhere, Dillon said.

"The reality is, we're going to have overtime," McGovern said. "Whether it's training, whether it's court time, whether it's people sick or something like that : in law enforcement, it's necessary."

Not alone

Neighboring Franklin County is short three jailers. The jail there has a capacity of 46 prisoners and has 12 corrections officers and one jail administrator who also does shift work, said Franklin County Sheriff Craig Davis.

"We've been dramatically short for several years," Davis said. "It bothers me that Douglas County is having a shortage, because I know they pay better than we do."

Several people have applied for the Franklin County jobs, and Davis said he hopes to add two to four more positions to the county's budget next year.

Leavenworth County is short about seven positions, said Leonard Ayres, spokesman for the sheriff's office there. In Oskaloosa, the Jefferson County Jail employs 12 full-time corrections officers and is currently at full staff, according to Capt. Tim Byers.

The Johnson County Jail is also currently at full staff, which the sheriff's department there credits to new recruiting tactics.

Last year, the department hired a firm to create a recruiting DVD that was provided to all applicants. It also has aired as a TV commercial. The department is also running radio advertisements and posting fliers at Kauffman Stadium, movie theaters and even in public restrooms.

"Normally in a good year, we'll have to replace 40 officers," said Johnson County Deputy Sheriff Tom Erickson. "We're having the same troubles that everyone is having in recruiting, so we decided to take a proactive approach."

McGovern said that in addition to recruiting at fairs, military installations and law enforcement expos, Douglas County might take a lesson from Johnson County's recruiting campaign.

"Some people understand the long hours and the different shifts, then they try it, and it becomes an issue with the family and they move on," McGovern said.

"I totally understand that. Raising my family, it was hard to get to school functions : and trying to work your schedule around (events). People don't understand that unless you get on this side of the fence."


jb9902 9 years, 11 months ago

Their no dilemma the Sheriff Department needs decide what is more important, patrol or the jail. As soon as the jail is fully staffed they will take 1-2 officers from the jail and place them on patrol. When you are operating with no extra people 1-2 officers make a difference. The Sheriff needs to decide what more important t, jail is or patrol staffing. As soon as this next group of people is finished from their training they will be sending two officers to patrol.

Confrontation 9 years, 11 months ago

I think the cops should trade places with teachers. The brats in the school system could learn some respect, and the teachers could see how much worse their jobs could be (harder work for less money).

purplesage 9 years, 11 months ago

I gather that McGovern's comment is literal, about working on "this side of the fence."

Sigmund 9 years, 11 months ago

Raise pay and benefits till the positions get filled with qualified personnel. In the alternative hire illegals as they are willing to do jobs Americans won't do.

Ragingbear 9 years, 11 months ago

Have the homeless run the jail. Most of them are in there at one time or another anyways.

daddax98 9 years, 11 months ago

For the lawrence economy the pay is not horrible. I believe that the starting pay is around $15 bucks an hour with full state benifits and law enforcement retirement plan plus a raise after 6 months. With moderate overtime that works out to about 40k a year. Like I said not great but not too bad. BTW the juvenile facility has the same pay scale....someone explain that one to me

fourkitties 9 years, 11 months ago

My husband is a Corrections Officer at Lansing they only make 12.41 an hour and the State HELPS pay for insurance but doesn't pay for it completely. At the State level, Juvenile Det. officers make less money. Corrections officers can use force on adults but are limited to what they can do to Juvies. one more thing... whether or not the jails are full a person will either still go to jail and they'll find a place for them or they will be summoned to court. they dont just.. "let them go"

Bobbi Walls 9 years, 11 months ago

fourkitties, you are wrong about letting them go. Having done a police ride along, if a person is placed under arrest and must take meds, or change bandages, etc. They sometimes will not place them in jail. They are still arrested, booked, etc, but will not necessarily stay at the jail.

Dan Alexander 9 years, 11 months ago

Why don't they just have the jailers reproduce?

willie_wildcat 9 years, 11 months ago

My husband and I live here in Lawrence. He has applied to work at the jail twice now and been denied both times. Its not that he doesn't have the experience. He has been working at another county jail for almost 3 years. So i would say that maybe they need to change there ways. I know that after you have been denied that you can't apply again for another year.

cowboy 9 years, 11 months ago

Its a tough job dealing with the dredges of Douglas county on a n ongoing basis every day. The only solution is to overstaff and plan for the turnover rather than be a slave to it. both the jail staff and deputies work a ton of OT which while nice on the pocketbook adds to the stress of the job and the strain on families of the law enforcement staff.

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 9 years, 11 months ago

I think you are correct Mrs. Wildcat. If your husband is good enough to do the job elsewhere, he is good enough to do the job here. That to me is totally ridiculous. Of course, there are a number of things about law enforcement in this county I have never understood. I probably never will. Thank you, Lynn

Ragingbear 9 years, 11 months ago

Bring back chain gangs and sentences with the "Hard Labor" aspect attached. Then make them build government buildings. Teach them how to do it, so that when they get out they will also have a job skill.

altarego 9 years, 11 months ago

This is the best argument for Hooters. Corrections officers could be given gift certificates as part of a promotional compensation package.

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