Deputies and detectives at the DeKalb County Sheriff's Department are some of the lowest paid law enforcement officers in the state and Sheriff Patrick Ray wants to change that.
In a meeting recently with the county budget committee, Sheriff Ray said he has lost five employees since last October because they have found jobs in law enforcement that pay better elsewhere.
DeKalb has fallen behind counties of similar size and population in recent years in what it pays law enforcement officers and Sheriff Ray's concern is that he will continue to lose more experienced personnel in the months ahead unless the county takes action to catch up. "Since October, I've lost four or five of my deputies. Most of them have been in my department for quite sometime. Some of them are over four year deputies. All of them pretty much have moved because of the pay. They've found better jobs somewhere else and some of those places offer benefits like health insurance," he said.
During a recent meeting with the budget committee, Sheriff Ray was asked to compile information on pay rates in other counties of similar size to give the committee some idea of where to start. "They asked me to get information on what other counties were paying their deputies, comparable to our county size and population and I have done that. I took six out of the ten smallest counties in the state based on the 2000 census, including Pickett, the smallest in the state with around 5,000 people, and learned that of those six counties, we were paying less than them." said Sheriff Ray.
For example, DeKalb County, with a population of 17,423 (based on the 2000 census), pays its deputies $10.96 cents per hour while Pickett County, with a population of 4,945, pays deputies $12.78 cents per hour. Detectives in Pickett County earn $13.28 cents an hour compared to $12.99 in DeKalb County.
Smith County, with a population closer in size to DeKalb County at 17,712, pays deputies $14.86 cents per hour compared to $10.96 in DeKalb County. Smith County detectives make $16.58 cents per hour compared to $12.99 in DeKalb County.
The City of Alexandria pays its patrolmen $11.50 per hour and $12.50 per hour for the sergeant position.
In addition to the pay, Sheriff Ray said the benefit package with some other law enforcement agencies is much better. "The City of Smithville is another competitor of ours. They start their officers at between $13.09 and $16.30 per hour. That's what some of their officers are making as just regular patrolmen. Their part-time officers make $14.17 per hour which is a whole lot more than our deputies. Plus they get almost eight thousand dollars worth of health insurance, eighty five dollars worth of life insurance, and $276 worth of dental insurance," said Sheriff Ray.
DeKalb County pays a little over $200 per month toward health insurance for employees who enroll in the county plan, but Sheriff Ray said because officers receive such a low wage, they still can't afford it. In addition, a mandatory five percent comes out of their wages toward retirement in the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System.
The following are the current hourly wages for DeKalb County Sheriff's Department positions:
Detectives (3 positions): $12.99 per hour or $27,024 per year
School Resource Officer (1 position): $10.96 per hour or $24, 514 per year
Deputies (14 positions): $10.96 per hour or $24,514 per year
Sergeant (1 position): $12.51 per hour or $26,023 per year
Correctional Officers(15 positions): $9.92 per hour or $22,174 per year
Correctional Officer/Training Officer (1 position): $22,674 per year
Secretaries/Correctional Officers (4 positions): $10.66 per hour or $22,174 per year
Litter Guard (1 position): $10.66 per hour or $22,174 per year
Cook (1 position) $10.11 per hour or $21,024 per year
The chief deputy is a salaried position and he receives $37,523 a year.
"By law we can work our law enforcement personnel 43 hours per week without any overtime. We do twelve hour shifts at the sheriff's department, the deputies, correctional officers. The rest of them are on eight and a half hour shifts," said Sheriff Ray.
Sheriff Ray said he isn't asking for any more benefits for his employees, only that their wages be more competitive. "We're not asking for more than what our county population is. As a matter of fact, we're asking for a whole lot less. We just want to be competitive"
According to Sheriff Ray, what normally occurs is that the county pays for new officers to become trained and certified only to see those officers move on to better paying jobs and the county lose that investment. The county is then forced to start all over again paying for the training of officers to replace them. "The county pays around $3,500 to get each officer through the academy (Walters State Community College Academy) as well as their salary while they are in the academy for eight weeks, along with their uniforms, vests, gun belts, and things like that. Plus, we often have to pay another officer overtime to work the shift of the one in the academy until he graduates."
The county does make an effort to recoup some of the costs if an officer leaves within the first two years of employment, according to Sheriff Ray. "If we send somebody (to the academy) we do a two year (employment) contract with them but if they quit within those two years we pro-rate that for them to pay us back," he said
A loss of experienced officers can also affect the quality of law enforcement. "If the correctional officers are there, they understand the operation of the jail and the knowledge of our booking procedures and releasing of inmates. Officers and detectives, with time, gain informants and become better acquainted with the public which helps them solve crimes but that becomes much more difficult with newer officers coming in all the time."
Sheriff Ray said that when he has a shortage of deputies, he moves up correctional officers into those positions.
During the latest budget committee meeting Tuesday night, county commissioners asked that Sheriff Ray and County Mayor Mike Foster work together to come up with a pay scale or proposal for them to consider.