The Saline County Sheriff’s Office presented the Quorum Court with a proposal to add certificate and degree pay for deputies in order to increase retention rates within the sheriff’s office during a meeting Monday.
“One of the topics (Sheriff Rodney Wright) wanted me to touch on this evening is the challenges of retention and recruitment at the sheriff’s office,” said Chief Deputy Jay Fitzpatrick.
According to Fitzpatrick, the SCSO often competes with the Benton and Bryant police departments, along with the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office and the Little Rock Police Department, when it comes to hiring new officers and retaining current officers.
Fitzpatrick also said that there has been great improvement within the SCSO since Wright took over and also credited the Justices of the Peace for their support of the office and helping them to improve and hit department goals. Although strides have been made, the department is suffering a loss of officers due to a number of factors. One of those is the current pay structure.
“In the last little over 12 months, we have lost 17 certified deputies,” Fitzpatrick said. “Three of those were at the sergeant level. One was at a corporate level. Everyone knows that when you lose that level of experience and rank, it really does cause a domino effect down the line.”
Fitzpatrick said that the majority of those losses were to other law enforcement agencies.
“The overall theme here is that we are losing people because of the challenges within our system,” Fitzpatrick. “A lot of times it comes down to pay.”
In order to combat the losses and increase retention, the SCSO suggested to the court an increase in starting pay along with insurance incentives and adding certificate and degree pay.
Fitzpatrick cited the decision earlier this year by the Benton City Council to raise starting pay for BNPD officers along with changes to the certificate and degree pay as a reason for the loss of a SCSO detective to the BNPD.
“We want to plant the seed for the increase in starting pay as we come into the budgetary season and also the certificate and education pay,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s something that we want to make a proposal on. Not many sheriff’s offices in the state offer an education/certificate pay.”
Lt. Joe Traylor presented the members of the Quorum Court with a 20-plus page proposal outlining a plan for the certificate and degree pay.
Fitzpatrick added that in his role of recruiting officers, he has seen the challenges the department faces first hand in both recruitment and retention.
“We’ve been lucky,” Fitzpatrick said. “In all of these losses, we’ve been able to work hard and replace a lot of this loss with good people.”
During a recruiting cycle, Fitzpatrick said the department usually sees anywhere from seven to 15 people apply for an opening compared to the BNPD which may see around 100 people apply.
The SCSO currently has 55 sworn officers with three at the detention center who are “sort of in the hopper to be certified” according to Fitzpatrick.
JP Josh Curtis said that he believes the county has always strived to be a “better retention county.”
“I’ve said it numerous times in reference to Quorum Court,” Curtis said. “I want to have less employees and pay people more. I don’t want to grow and I think that is what the sheriff’s office is articulating that they need to focus on retention rather than trying to add more people at this moment. If we give them the tools that has retention, I think they can be better successful in keeping Saline County safe.”
Fitzpatrick said he believes that the officers currently employed at the SCSO are of the highest caliber and department like the BNPD would not be attempting to recruit their officers if that was not the case.
“Benton sees where we’ve come as a department,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve actually started taking a few people from them. Not a lot, but a few people. I think now they are hitting back at us and they are starting to come over. Folks, listen. It’s not a secret that back in the day, Saline County, no one wanted a Saline County deputy. Benton didn’t want them. Bryant didn’t want them … no one in this area did. Now we see, Benton especially, actively recruiting these young deputies who are turning out to be great assets and great resources for us.”
Fitzpatrick said that those being recruited do hold out because of the environment at the SCSO, but a significant change in pay is hard to turn down.
“We try to take care of people real well and probably better than most local departments,” Fitzpatrick said. “However, sooner or later, that dollar figure when you’re trying to support kids and families and car payments and house payments and toys and whatever you have, it really stresses these folks out…some decided to leave based on finances.”
The JPs spoke in favor of looking into the proposal and agreed to consider it during the upcoming budget discussions for 2020.
“I think this is a good idea,” Curtis said. “I think you all as a department have been talking about this for a long time and it’s good to see this in black and white. I think this needs further study by the Quorum Court. Normally we take this stuff through (human resources) and I’m sure this is where we will go next with it, but I think it’s absolutely something we should strongly consider during the upcoming budget cycle.”