Wanted: New deputies. San Diego Sheriff offering big rewards
There are hundreds of vacant positions in the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, and they have been losing experienced members to other departments. But Sheriff Anthony Ray says it wasn't always this way.
"Up until March of 2021, we were the agency that was full and people wanted to come — there was a waiting list for people to be on our sheriff’s department," Ray told KPBS. "But with all these other agencies putting out incentives it put us behind ... Now the Board of Supervisors, with their decision, it’s helped us come back on par and be on level ground with everybody else."
That decision, to offer more incentives to attract new employees and retain the ones they have, was passed unanimously by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
The incentives will come out of their current budget and will cost about $11 million. The department is highlighting these incentives in an email and video campaign:
- Deputies, sergeants and lieutenants who work four or more hours between the hours of 5:00 p.m. and 8 a.m. will receive a five-percent nightshift premium.
- Sheriff's nursing staff who work within county jails will get a 10 percent premium.
- Peace officers with at least one year of experience who choose to lateral [transfer] from another law enforcement agency will receive incentive pay for a maximum of $20,000.
- Lateral hires will be given 42.5 hours of vacation time in their very first pay period.
- New employees moving to San Diego County will be offered a relocation allowance of up to $15,000.
- Current Sheriff's employees who recruit people for specific positions such as deputies, nurses or emergency services dispatchers will be offered a $1,000 bonus.
Ray says bringing on experienced officers is priceless, and while that $20,000 bonus sounds high, it’s actually a huge savings compared to hiring new recruits who need about a year's worth of training.
"That takes on the average of $100,000 for each person we put through there, so if you’re putting 10 people into the academy that would be $1 million for every 10 folks we’re trying to hire," Ray said.
Ray said they’re looking to hire about 300 sworn deputies and 125 medical staff.
The incentives are among a set of emergency actions taken by the board because of the recent increase in jail deaths, many because of drug overdoses.
"We are facing the reality of a fentanyl and an opioid crisis that is impacting our entire community," said Supervisor Nathan Fletcher during Tuesday's board meeting. "Overdose deaths are up significantly across the county, and the jail population is a reflection of what is happening countywide. And so we see the increases outside the jails and the increases inside the jails, and in this case that compels us to ask ourselves what else can we do, what more can we do?"
Hours after the Board of Supervisors took its initial vote to approve the emergency actions, the Sheriff's Department reported another death at the George Bailey Detention Facility.
In a news release, the department said a 54-year-old inmate suffered some type of medical emergency and died Tuesday. They said deputies conducting a security check at the Otay Mesa jail found the man in the throes of an unknown ailment in his cell shortly after 7 p.m. The inmate died at the scene, despite lifesaving efforts made by deputies and paramedics. His name is being withheld pending family notification, and an autopsy in the case is scheduled for Thursday.