CHATHAM CO., GA (WTOC) - This week, the Chatham County Sheriff's Office was called out by another television station for the large number of deputy vacancies at the jail, and the agency's inability to retain the deputies it has.
Thursday, the Sheriff's Office took the unusual step of issuing a statement about the criticism. And admitted, that criticism is absolutely warranted, just as it is of most law enforcement agencies today.
In all fairness, the Sheriff's release also defined exactly what the office is doing to correct it.
First, the problem.
"The pool of applicants appear to be shrinking," said Chief Deputy Roy Harris, CCSO.
Chief Deputy Harris didn't mince words when talking about your sheriff's worst enemy. Pick your city, law enforcement applications are down an average of 90 percent over the last 30 years. And those who are applying can barely pass the potatoes.
"The last 35 applicants we reviewed and did backgrounds on, we ended up hiring about five of those," said Chief Deputy Harris.
Five hires barely scratches this department itch. Since January, 28 officers were released, another 18 retired in the chief calls a "Baby Boom Balloon" that will continue to empty the rolls. And finally, 46 officers left for other jobs.
Police and jail work does have a way of bringing out the worst in some.
"Probably about half of these positions we have that are empty today, are due to folks being asked to resign or being terminated," said Chief Deputy Harris.
Something else the Chief Deputy points out when it comes to hiring and retaining new deputies involves the special relationship those deputies must have with inmates. No other law enforcement agency has to have that relationship. And when we say special, we mean special sometimes in all the wrong ways.
"They become totally our person to protect from harming themselves, from harming another inmate or from harming one of our personnel," said Chief Deputy Harris.
And we've all seen the surveillance footage of some of those special relationships in action.
"Not only being hollered and screamed at, but having urine and feces thrown at them through door flaps. That happens about once a week," said Chief Deputy Harris.
This agency has no choice by to make it work.
So here's the new plan. The Sheriff is working to raise the base pay of every officer. Adding signing bonuses to those willing to take the leap, and creating what he calls the "Think Tank Team", where rank and file regularly assess morale.