By Pat Caldwell
For the Enterprise
VALE – A new plan under consideration by the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office may help the agency with the lingering problem of obtaining experienced deputies.
Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe recently approached the County Court with the blueprint that calls for the agency to hire trained personnel at a higher pay rate without adding to its existing force structure. When a funded position becomes open, instead of bringing in a new recruit, Wolfe proposes to fill the slot with someone with prior experience.
“Basically what I was talking to the County Court about was bringing in laterals. In other words, people who have experience who are currently working with other agencies. Brining them in at a higher (pay) step rather than what a brand new deputy without any experience would come in at,” Wolfe said.
Now, Wolfe said, a new deputy with no experience steps in to the agency at a pay wage of $3,268 a month. Wolfe said his plan would focus on attracting individuals with three to five years of experience and pay them at the agency’s step four, or $4,010 a month.
Wolfe’s proposal is still preliminary but he believes the change would eradicate two challenges his agency encounters when seeking new employees. Wolfe said both the hiring process and then training for a new deputy can be lengthy.
“They figure it takes a good year and a half to get them really proficient. That doesn’t mean they are not out there on their own before that. They also figure the cost of training a new deputy is between $100,000 and $150,000,” he said.
Plus, a new deputy must complete 16 weeks at the police academy, Wolfe said.
Another issue his agency faces, Wolfe said, is the shrinking pool of people applying for deputy jobs.
“It used to be for every opening we had, we’d have nearly 100 applicants. Nowadays we are averaging between 30 and 40 applicants,” he said.
Many prospective applicants do not pass the initial, standard tests for a deputy position, Wolfe said.
“So we are losing about 45 to 50 percent of the applicants with the test,” he said.
Others, he said, don’t make it through the background checks or psychological evaluation.
Hiring someone already experienced would eliminate many of those obstacles, Wolfe said.
“If you could bring in an experienced law enforcement person that has three to five years of experience at least, bring them in at our step four of $4010 versus the $3,268, we feel we would have more success getting them to come,” he said.
The current salary offering has discouraged experienced people, he said.
“We’ve had people from other agencies apply and make it to the final step and then decide they can’t afford to leave the job they have to come here,” he said.
Wolfe emphasized he isn’t proposing to add staff. He said he’s aware the county budget is already stretched.
However, the new blueprint could be a prospect that allows the county to break even budget-wise.
“Pay a little more up front but it is really a push because you are not losing them for that first year or year and half for training. This just when anyone leaves, to replace a vacancy,” he said.
The Court advised Wolfe to refine his proposal and take it through the county’s budget process.