As the unemployment rate in Grayson County continues to hover in the extremely low range, all sorts of employers are having a hard time keeping their staff at full force. Most get by with the people they can hire and keep. However, some employers don’t have the option of relying on fewer employees to get the job done.
One of those is the Grayson County Jail. Sheriff Tom Watt said the problem has been chronic since he won the sheriff’s spot and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.
He referred questions about jailers to Cpt. Brian Ford who said the jail is required by The Texas Commission on Jail Standards to maintain a minimum of ratio of one officer for 48 inmates.
“This ratio is only for inmate supervision,” Ford said in an email. “It takes a minimum of 18 officers to run a shift. When fully staffed we have 20 officers allotted per shift. We also must consider officers to man our (three) Annex Control Rooms (cameras & doors).”
There are also booking officers, court officers, transport officers, kitchen officers, maintenance officers and supervisors. Ford added that the sheriff’s office has 106 budgeted detention officer positions. That includes 98 current officers with eight vacant positions that they are trying to fill.
Filling those positions can be hard, Watt said, because the same jobs draw a salary of about 30 percent more just south of Grayson County.
Correction officers in Grayson County start out at just under $40,000 a year and then get increases along the way as they continue to stay at the county. The first raise takes them from $39,693 to $41,321. Six months later, they can get a jump as high as to $43,288. Then six months later, they are eligible for a jump to $47,379.
After working for the county for two years, the corrections officer could be making as much as $50,845.
Officers are also eligible for county benefits including medical and retirement, Grayson County Judge Bill Magers pointed out when asked about the costs involved in keeping such employees.
Magers said while the county doesn’t want to see a lot of turn over at the jail, the current employment situation in the area means that any department in the county could face a similar situation because employees can often find higher paying positions to the south.
Watt acknowledged that his office isn’t the only county department that can face such competition for employees.
However, Ford said just getting new hires isn’t the only issue. The cost of training new hires is part of the problem. The cost of training a new officer for the first year is around $9,179. That includes 320 hours of field training and an additional 120 hours of basic jail school.
“We also have annual training classes required by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) and the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS),” Ford’s email said.
GCSO spends about $40,000 each year on continuing education to keep detention officers educated and properly trained.
Ford said there are a number of characteristics that they look for in a jailer including, a good attitude and looking to learn and develop a career. They are looking for someone who has confidence and the ability to communicate and to deescalate situations. Those people must have situational awareness of their surroundings but they must also be calm, impartial, firm, fair and consistent.
They must also be able to show that they have a strong family support system outside of work.
“It has become increasingly more difficult to find individuals to fill positions due in part to the increased scrutiny that the Law Enforcement field has come under recently. Many individuals that would make great detention officers will often enter a career field that offers more competitive salary range with less stress and a better work schedule,” Ford’s email said.