The Transylvania Times -

By Derek McKissock
News Editor 

Sheriff's Office Struggles To Attract Deputies

 

March 14, 2019



Out of roughly 28 graduates from a recent basic law enforcement program, the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office was able to recruit just one officer.

The reason, according to Eddie Gunter, the Sheriff’s Office chief deputy, was that Transylvania County couldn’t compete salary wise.

Gunter made the comments Tuesday during the Board of Commissioners’ regular meeting, giving his department’s semi-annual report.

A new deputy with the Sheriff’s Office is paid $16.73 per hour, not including benefits. Commissioners recently approved funding for a new compensation study to see how the county compares in funding all employee positions.

Gunter told commissioners the Sheriff’s Office continues to be challenged in recruiting and retaining officers and has lost “several members again this year to other agencies, citing better pay.”

Gunter said he was encouraged the county is undertaking the compensation study to tackle the problem.

He said the Sheriff’s Office is one of the lowest-paying law enforcement agencies in the area. He said the department and the area are attractive to new recruits but a lack of competitive pay and the cost of owning a home in the county are significant barriers.

Gunter talked about other “trends” faced by the Sheriff’s Office, including officer safety, recent state legislation that increased the age of a juvenile in the justice system to 18, aging equipment and inmate work crew requests.

By far, Gunter said, officer safety is the number one concern that the Sheriff’s Office command staff has identified as an “emerging trend.” Over the past several years, attacks on law enforcement officers have continued to rise, he said.

“Ensuring that we continue to provide the very best safety equipment and training to our men and women is very important,” he said.

Raising the age to 18 of juveniles in the justice system makes it a “guessing game,” Gunter said, on the impact to the county detention center. Juveniles cannot be housed with the adult population and are taken to other facilities, such as in Buncombe County and Old Fort. Each year, the Sheriff’s Office sets aside extra money to pay the expenses of housing the juveniles in other counties. Gunter estimates that of all the crimes committed each year in the county, 10 to 12 percent are by juveniles.

In 2018, the detention center had an average daily population of about 81. The center takes in inmates from other counties, and the county is paid accordingly.

Commissioner David Guice said he’d like to get a breakdown of the number of inmates in the detention center from outside the county and the “challenges of managing it,” such as offering help for those with substance abuse and mental health problems.

Gunter said the center has AA meetings and a “pretty good jail ministry.” Those 16- or 17-year-olds have to have access to educational opportunities, he said.

Another factor for the Sheriff’s Office, Gunter said, is aging equipment, such as firearms, body cameras, bullet-resistant vests, emergency medical supplies and other electronic devices. The final “trend” Gunter focused on was inmate work crew requests.

“We continue to see an increase in the number of requests from county agencies for our inmate work crew, particularly trash pick up,” he said.

The crews have been unable to address the requests recently because the vehicle that was being used is no longer in service.

Later in Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners approved a request from staff to fund, earlier than planned, a new vehicle for the Fire Marshal’s office at $41,000 and use the office’s current vehicle for transporting the inmate work crews. The Fire Marshal’s office was initially scheduled to get the new vehicle in the 2021 fiscal year. As part of his presentation, Gunter also listed the Sheriff’s Office’s recent accomplishments:

•Local crime rate continues to be one of the lowest in Western North Carolina, Gunter said.

•The Sheriff’s Office’s average response time to calls remains around 9 minutes and 30 seconds.

•As part of its citizen education initiative, the Sheriff’s Office started the Sheriff’s Citizen Academy. The academy is a program designed to give citizens an in-depth look at the Sheriff’s Office day-to-day operations.

The program is one night a week for six weeks and 30 citizens recently graduated from the program.

•The Sheriff’s Office implemented a tuition assistance program for its employees, with two currently working toward post-secondary degrees at Brevard College and two others considering seeking associates degrees through Blue Ridge Community College.

•Gunter said the Sheriff’s Office is also proud to be a community partner in the opening of the Family Resource Center opposite the library.

“With the addition of the grant-funded domestic violence investigator position, we have been better able to serve victims of domestic violence and sexual assault,” he said.

In the past, he said, uniformed officers would do the best they could in domestic violence cases but would have limited time to investigate. All domestic violence cases are now fully investigated. From last July to early March, the Sheriff’s Office has responded to 110 domestic violence calls. Gunter expects those numbers are actually higher because not all calls are initially coded as domestic violence related.

•Gunter thanked commissioners for providing the funding for a firearms-training simulator. A number of positive lessons are being learned and reinforced each time the training is offered, he said.

•Through help from the N.C. Sheriff’s Association, the Sheriff’s Office has added a new risk management policy and procedure manual. The manual provides comprehensive, defensible policies specific to North Carolina standards that are written by legal and public safety professionals.

•Staff has negotiated additional agreements to house inmates from other counties, as well as housing for the State Misdemeanant Confinement Program. This continues to be a major source of generated revenue.

Among the Sheriff’s Office’s goals, Gunter said they want to work with commissioners to address recruitment and retention; to replace interview room equipment to satisfy the needs of the courts; to work to continue funding the domestic violence investigator position; and to develop replacement schedules for equipment, such as body cameras.

More from the meeting will appear in Monday’s paper.

 
 

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