Law enforcement looking to fix staff shortages

Local law enforcement agencies continue to wonder what to do in order to fill empty job openings in their departments.

“We are still working on it,” said Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks. “We are hoping to increase our benefits package,”

Mincks said a planned promotional video to entice new employees has been put on hold until other incentives are put into place.

There are currently seven open positions with corrections at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. The Marietta Police Department currently has a full roster, but with three retirements looming, jobs will be open in the near future. These shortages don’t appear to be just a local problem, though. According to National Public Radio, there has been a 23,000 officer loss of the 700,000 nationwide since 2013. Local law enforcement says stigmas associated with police work are keeping applicants from reaching their departments.

Deputies start off at the county jail as correction officers until a slot opens in the criminal division of his office, Mincks said. Mincks said the jail is currently looking for two female correction officers and five male officers to help house inmates.

Lt. Carey Rist, Washington County assistant jail administrator, said he believes preconceptions about working at a jail keeps the open slots from getting filled.

“People think they will see bars everywhere,” he said. “They think it will be cold, dark and wet in here.”

Rist said the jail is completely opposite than the dungeon that people perceive it as.

“Everything is very open…there is a lot of natural light inside, too,” he said.

Rist said the open slots are causing a hardship on the officers who are currently employed and to the county’s financial well-being.

“We have to cover the open slots with overtime,” he said.

Jobs only require a high school diploma and start at more than $16 an hour, Rist said.

Unlike the sheriff’s office, Capt. Aaron Nedeff of the Marietta Police Department said that his roster is full, at least for the time being.

“We have one officer in the academy now,” he said.

The new officer will be replacing an officer retiring at the end of May, keeping his department fully manned. But Nedeff said the need for new officers will be just around the corner.

“We are planning on two or three retirements in the next 15 months,” he said.

Nedeff said new hires are picked from the ranks of the civil service test applicants. He said he usually has around 20 applicants to choose from, but after April’s civil service test, he only has five. Nedeff said he has already hired three of those applicants.

A change in the hiring rules will allow him to interview a wider pool of applicants. He said previously, new hires had to be under 36 years old to be hired. Nedeff said the new age limit is under 41 now.

“It gives us a chance to pick up people who recently retired from the military,” he said.

Sgt. Margaret King has been in corrections for 10 years, with most of those spent at the Washington County Jail after starting at the Noble Correctional Institution. She said new hires will get more than just a paycheck from working at the sheriff’s office.

“We’re like a second family,” she said.

King said the tight knit group of officers at the jail do more than just guard the inmates. She said at times, they need the assistance of the correction officers in order to deal with problems ranging from when to contact their lawyer to basic social graces. King said the officers often have to act as mentors to the inmates, giving advice rather than implementing punishment in order to fully help those incarcerated.

“They don’t know how to get the help they need,” she said.

She said new employees need to understand there is stress associated with the job, but the payout is worth the effort.

“You have to have a good work ethic to work here,” she said. “But it can be a very rewarding job…because we do make a difference.”

At a glance

•Both the Marietta Police Department and Washington County Sheriff’s Office have a shortage of applicants for positions.

•The sheriff’s office currently has seven openings for correctional guards. The MPD currently has a full roster, but has three retirements coming up in the near future.

•Sheriff Larry Mincks said he hopes better benefits and a promotional video will attract more applicants. The Marietta Police Department raised the maximum age for new recruits to under 41 from under 36 in order to have a wider pool of potential employees.

Source: Times research.

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