Iron County Sheriff calls loss of 13 deputies a ‘public safety issue’

CEDAR CITY – The Iron County Sheriff’s Office stands to lose 13 officers in the next few months – with the potential of more than half of those leaving within 30 days, a problem Sheriff Mark Gower called a “public safety issue.” Furthermore, there aren’t enough names on the hiring rosters to replace them.

“Potentially, here in the near future, I could be down 13 deputies,” Gower said. “That’s a mass exodus and that creates a problem. That’s a public safety issue.”

The problem largely stems from lower than average wages, Gower said during Monday’s county commission meeting.

Police departments throughout the state are paying a minimum of $1 to $2 more an hour with some as high as $6 to $10 more an hour. Many of these agencies are also sweetening their hiring packages with attractive incentives such as sign-on bonuses of $5,000 to $10,000 and increased retirement contributions that entice more officers and creates a competitive market Iron County is struggling to compete in.

According to the data Gower presented to the commission:

  • Five patrol officers are now testing with other agencies that pay higher wages than Iron County.
  • One correctional officer is leaving for a job in Northern Utah where the pay averages $1 to $2 more an hour.
  • One correctional officer’s leave is conditional on a job offer from another local agency that pays $1 to $2 more an hour.
  • One patrol and one correctional officer are leaving within the next 30 to 45 days for an extended military deployment.
  • Two patrol officers are retiring – one in September and the other in October.
  • Two correctional officers are being transferred to patrol to backfill positions.

Of the five patrol officers currently testing: One is looking at another local agency; Two are considering a move to the Utah Highway Patrol; Two are testing for positions in Washington County, all agencies offering more money than Iron County.

Of even more concern, Gower said is the time involved in the hiring process that can often take up to a year.

The problem however, isn’t just retaining the officers but attracting new ones.

After recently exhausting the hiring roster in corrections, Gower said he opened another one in February but only received two applicants. A hiring roster for patrol only garnered interest from six applicants.

Moreover, none of the applicants are experienced law enforcement agents or even have their Peace Officer Standards and Training certification.

The initial training costs come with a hefty price tag of about $30,000 per deputy beginning with 17 weeks at police academy, followed with another 17 to 19 weeks of field training.

The county pays deputies $16.50 an hour and covers housing and meals while they’re at the academy. The pay is then increased during field training to $17.50 an hour. Once training is completed, deputies start out at $18.50 an hour. Many agencies pay at least $19 to $20 an hour when officers enter the academy, Lt. Del Schlosser said.

Furthermore, while Iron County has footed the bill for the training, other agencies often end up benefiting it.

“That $30,000 doesn’t include the continued training either – DUI, SWAT, drones, traffic investigations – officers receive once they are done with POST and field training,” Gower said in an interview after the commission meeting. “Then the officers leave and the new agency doesn’t have to drop a dime for their training.”

Gower told the commission he sees no other way of fixing the issue without throwing money at the problem.

“It just comes down to, as simple as this — we’re not paying enough,” he said. “We’re not offering any incentives to get people to apply as you can see with corrections and number two, to retain them. We’re losing these deputies. We’re just a training ground. They’re going where the money is and if we don’t keep pace, we’re going to keep losing them. We’re going to keep being this revolving door losing good experienced officers who know the community, know the people and know how to get the job done.”

The commission tasked Human Resource Director Adrian Walker with collecting comparison data on salaries paid to officers in other areas including Cedar City, Washington County, St. George and Mesquite, Nevada.

Commissioner Mike Bleak said the county will review the information Walker puts together and act accordingly.

“There is no doubt we have to do something,” Bleak said. “We can’t wait another six months or a year. We have to stop the bleeding now. The cost to the county in turnover and overtime pay is just too high.”

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