Sheriff Down 11 Officers, Coverage Suffering

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The Gila County Sheriff's Office is facing a shortfall of officers as more and more are leaving its department for better pay at other agencies.

The sheriff's office is down 11 officers, which is about a 33 percent decrease of the number of deputies when it is fully staffed.

Chief Deputy Thomas Melcher said even if the sheriff's office was able to find qualified applicants, it would take about a half year to get them up to speed.

He mentioned the first thing the GCSO would have to do after completing all the background tests is to send the applicant to the academy.

He said the problem rests with salary and wages. A starting salary for a GCSO deputy is $32,400. A cadet makes $30,000 a year.

He said officers in Payson, Globe and other parts of the county earn a starting salary of about $36,000.

With salaries like that, applicants are coming to the Gila County Sheriff's Office only after being turned down by other police agencies.

But those are not acceptable applicants. Melcher said the reason or reasons an applicant was turned down by another agency is the same reason he or she will be turned down by the sheriff's office. He said the Department of Public Safety pays its beginning officers more then what the sheriff's office can compensate its experienced deputies.

"How do you deal with that? The job pool is getting narrower," he said.

Melcher said some agencies are also paying finder fees as well as paying new hires $6,000 to $8,000 a year more than what they would earn as a Gila County Sheriff deputy.

"The best applicants never end up at our door," he said. "We are seeing applicants that have failed at other places."

He said some of its officers have been getting overtime due to the shortage of deputies, but the department can only go so far in extending their hours.

A GCSO deputy needs to obtain 160 hours of compensation time before he or she will be eligible for overtime wages. However, with a force that is 11 officers short, many are working many more than the usual 160-hour threshold.

The shortage of staff could mean a shortage in coverage of certain areas in the county.

The sheriff's office is now examining more closely where its calls are coming from for service. Officers will normally be assigned to a centralized location.

The community of Young, which once had two officers patrolling its streets, now has zero.

Melcher said the residents of Young are upset, but pointed out that if an officer were dispatched to Young from Payson, it would take 70 minutes to get there at emergency speed.

"I don't have those officers," he said, adding the sheriff's office is starting to use more reserve police officers. Reserve police officers are fully certified and volunteer their time to the county.

Melcher said the sheriff's office cannot fix the problem because the Gila County Board of Supervisors sets salaries. He said the county last year gave its deputies a small increase, but still left them at least 10 percent lower that what other agencies are paying.

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