Law enforcement agencies across the country are reporting a shortage of qualified people to join their forces.
Nassau County Sheriff Bill Leeper said his agency is one of them.
“We have about 150 (sworn) or so. We have 10 openings in patrol, 13 in corrections and four openings in dispatch,” Leeper said. “We were getting plenty of applications, wanting to be officers and patrol, corrections and dispatchers. It appears with what is going on around the country, it seems that pool is diminishing, and what I see is it is going to get harder and harder for young people who want to get involved in law enforcement profession.”
Leeper launched a sponsorship program in hopes of attracting people to joining the Nassau County Sheriff’s Office.
“Hire them as a trainee and send them to school, pay them while they go. Once they graduate and pass the state exam, we will swear them in as a deputy sheriff,” he explained.
In return, the deputy would sign a two-year contract.
“It’s a little over $16 ($16.16 an hour) while they are in the program, and once they graduate, the salary is about $45,000 right now,” Leeper said.
News4Jax took a look at how that money stacks up to other sheriffs’ offices in Northeast Florida.
As of June 14, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has 1,773 police officers. This does not include staff. A newly-hired recruit’s starting annual salary is $43,982. A spokesperson for the agency said JSO is not having issues filling vacant positions as a result of attrition.
The Clay County Sheriff’s Office has 105 detention deputies and 270 sworn deputies. A spokesperson for the agency said their challenge is not so much in recruitment as it is pay and retention. Starting pay is $38,000.
The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office has 59 patrol deputies with three current openings. Starting pay for a deputy with no prior experience is $35,190.05. The agency reports no issues with recruitment.
The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office employs 210 people. Starting annual pay for sworn personnel is $35,000. In a statement, a spokesperson for the agency wrote: “Our agency experiences some of the same difficulties in recruiting that many other agencies experience. Some considerations are comparing the stress of the job with the pay/benefits.”
That recruitment trend is reality for the Bradford County Sheriff’s Office as well. The agency has 35 law enforcement officers and 31 corrections deputies. Starting pay is $33,720.
St. Johns County Sheriff Rob Hardwick said his agency is having a difficult time hiring for other positions.
“It’s just a difficult time. I would like to say an easy answer, like, because of what is going on in the nation. But I am going to tell you it’s not like that because we are not having a problem recruiting deputy sheriffs that want to become police officers,” Hardwick said. “Right now, school crossing guards is a difficult one to hire. It’s seasonal. It’s part-time. There are no benefits, so, yes, we are hiring corrections deputies, 911 communications operators and school crossing guards.”
Hardwick said a new deputy out of the academy with no experience makes $43,000.
“I just presented our budget to our five commissioners last week and in that proposal was to increase our starting pay to $45,000 for deputy sheriffs, both corrections and law enforcement on the road, and increase our pay for our 911 communications center from $39,000 to $41,000,” Hardwick said. “My goal, by the way, here at the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office is to get our starting employees to $50,000 a year.”
Hardwick added he hopes to reach that goal in his first term.