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Denton County Commissioners extend temporary police pay raise

Denton County Commissioners extend temporary police pay raise

Denton County Commissioners extend temporary police pay raise
September 30
10:00 2022

The one-minute Denton County Commissioners meeting on Sept. 7 resulted in a unanimous decision to extend the emergency pay adjustment to account for deteriorating jail staff in what Sheriff Tracy Murphee calls a “morale crisis.”

This is one of the city’s latest efforts to recover from a severe staffing shortage

In July, Denton County Jail relocated inmates to Montague Jail because of the serious lack of staffing. With nearly 200 vacant staff positions, Denton County Jail officials were forced to move inmates in an attempt to decrease the growing prison population. 

In March, county officials approved the plan to turn vacant full-time positions into part-time positions to encourage applications, according to the Denton Record-Chronicle. This plan was meant to address the detention officer shortage and broaden the scope for potential applicants. 

In the fall of 2021, Denton County approved a temporary emergency increase in overtime pay for its detention officers. The goal of the pay adjustment was to prevent losing more staff amid the COVID-19 crisis.

“COVID has had lots of different ramifications that we’re all very aware of and some that we’re not,” County Judge Andy Eads said in the meeting. “One of those ramifications is we’ve had a really difficult time here at Denton County and I would say the jails across Texas have had a very difficult time attracting and retaining qualified applicants and employees for detention officers.”

Both commissioners and the sheriff claimed that the reason for such a severe staffing shortage is the COVID-19 pandemic. County Commissioner Dianne Edmondson referenced a similar crisis in the healthcare industry. She draws similarities in the toll the pandemic has taken on both workforces. 

“They’re experiencing, not just exhaustion, almost a turnoff from their profession from what they’ve had to go through dealing with COVID patients,” Edmondson said.

Murphee made a request for a rate of double-time overtime pay instead of the usual time-and-a-half overtime pay officers were receiving.

“What we’re asking for today is really not a recruitment tool — what it is is we’re trying to stop the exit,” Murphee said at the first meeting.

During the height of the pandemic, Denton County’s police force was filled with applicants and new recruits. The sudden rise in recruitment was due to the shutting down of most businesses during the lockdown. However, as the city of Denton opened up again, many people left these jobs for other fields.

The lack of detention officers has led to current officers sacrificing more of their time, energy and livelihood than should be necessary.

“Recently we’ve had to require some overtime, we’ve had to cancel some vacations, we had to cancel some days off,” Murphee said in reference to the shortage.

Accompanied by the unusually high turnover rates for public safety and criminal justice jobs, many departments struggle to recruit officers state-wide. Many people join the force, but a majority do not make it to retirement for a variety of reasons. 

“Not just statewide but nationwide specifically in detentions because that’s a hard job and it’s a difficult job — it’s a thankless job,” Murphee said.

The harsh environment of these jobs paired with the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is taking its toll on the industry as a whole. 

“Morale is a huge issue, and hopefully this is going to help with some of that morality issue,” Murphee said. 

On top of these factors, overtime pay is set up differently for detention officers, forcing them to work longer to receive overtime pay. In addition to the 40-hour work week, officers must work another six hours before receiving time-and-a-half pay for overtime. With the pay raise, detention officers will be able to receive more for the overtime they work.

“The double time helps to compensate for those six hours,” Eads said. 

As this plan is currently being implemented, it is unclear if it will fix the staffing crisis. There is a proposed budget increase for an officer pay increase in the upcoming 2023 budget, but there are no official reports of its approval. 

Featured Image: The Denton County Comissioners Court sits on Sept. 26, 2022. Photo by Maria Crane

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Jadyn Turner

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