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Sheriff losing officers to cities with higher pay

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By Emile Hallez

The Jeffco Sheriff’s Office has for years been losing newly trained recruits and deputies to other metro-area police agencies, which employees attribute to a longstanding hiatus of the department’s step-and-grade pay system.

Though the Sheriff’s Office said it could not provide a specific number of employees who left for greener pastures, other local law enforcement agencies have been luring away deputies since 2007 with offers of better pay, Sheriff Ted Mink said.

The phenomenon has resulted in a higher-than-usual turnover rate, a costly trend when the department spends an estimated $125,000 to train a recruit.

“We’re losing people to Arvada, to Wheat Ridge,” Mink said, noting that employees with about five or more years of experience have also taken jobs in Denver and Aurora. “It always comes up to salary and benefits. … Our competitive market is in this region, and it’s usually to municipal agencies.”

While Mink said the trend has not noticeably affected his department’s ability to provide service, having to continuously hold academy trainings and recruit employees is a headache that takes time away from other important work.

“It really doesn’t affect the service we provide, but, internally, it always puts us in a recruiting-and-training mode. If you always have vacant positions, you’re always recruiting,” he said, explaining that it is only cost-effective to host an academy training when 12 or more positions need to be filled. “It takes a while to put on an academy. … We should be focusing on service and delivery of service.”

Arapahoe County Undersheriff Dave Walcher, a former Jeffco division chief, said he has seen at least four Jeffco employees take jobs with his agency. Though Arapahoe County has not had a freeze in its step-and-grade system, it too has concerns with ensuring it stays competitive, he said.

“I don’t want to lose talent. … If their pay isn’t competitive, they feel that they are undervalued as an employee,” he said. “You hate to see quality people leave to go elsewhere. … If it’s because of salary and benefits, that really hurts. Because you invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in employees.”

Absent from the Jeffco sheriff’s $89.7 million proposed budget is about $3.4 million that could catch it up with step-and-grade pay increases. The pay system, which includes seven steps, normally provides raises for employees when they reach training and tenure milestones. But since 2007, employees have had no such increases, meaning seasoned deputies are apparently making significantly less than new recruits at other local agencies.

“We had one cost-of-living increase in 2007, and that’s the only raise I personally have had since 2002,” said Jeffco Investigator Ralph Gallegos, who addressed the issue Nov. 15 before the county commissioners. “The key to keeping good employees here is making sure that the bottom end of our structure is compensated appropriately. … We are going to continue to lose good officers within that three- to probably seven-year tenure with the Sheriff’s Office, if they are not compensated accordingly.”

Deputy Nathan Hunerwadel, who completed the academy training three years ago, noted that he has since watched six graduates of his class depart Jeffco for jobs elsewhere.

“The future of our county has eyes on a future elsewhere. My academy has already lost 30 percent, and I just spoke with five additional members who are considering leaving,” he said, noting that the immediate loss of money spent on the training of such employees — about $750,000 — is noticeable. “The intangible loss in skill, character, expertise and strength, however, is a long-term loss that is more costly and certainly more damaging. The quality of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office simply cannot be maintained when deputies with three years of experience or more can receive higher compensation at many metro agencies as either a first-year officer, or even in some agencies as a brand-new, just-signed, inexperienced recruit.”

The county’s budget, which is set for approval Dec. 6, is likely to be revised, Commissioner John Odom said. However, re-implementation of the Sheriff’s Office step-and-grade system is unlikely, he said.

Commissioner Don Rosier thanked the employees for addressing the board, adding that the public should hold the three commissioners accountable for budget decisions.

“If there’s a problem with the budget, look at us. We’re responsible for it,” he said.

 

Contact Emile Hallez at emile@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22. For updates, check www.ColumbineCourier.com.

 

 

 

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office employee salaries:*

Deputy: $47,920 to $67,362

Sergeant: $72,528 to $84,048

Lieutenant: $89,960 to $98,520

Captain: $103,428 to $109,260

 

Araphoe County Sheriff’s Office employee salaries:*

Deputy: $45,516 to 67,968

Senior deputy: $51,660 to 73,200

Sergeant $62,664 to $93,912

Lieutenant: $70,724 to $106,116

Captain: $77748 to $116628

 

Douglas County Sheriff’s Office employee salaries:*

Deputy: $48,802 to $73,204

Sergeant $65,338 to $98,008

Lieutenant: $78,146 to $117,220

Captain: $84,207 to $126,311

 

*Salary ranges represent low and high earnings possible for each department’s employees. In some cases no employees are paid at either the upper or lower limits in each job classification. Salary ranges were used for comparison because average salaries could not immediately be provided.