Mohave County Sheriff Doug Schuster has requested an additional $3 million for his department in this year’s budget to address ongoing pay and compression issues within the sheriff’s office.
According to a tentative budget published by the Mohave County Financial Services Department, the sheriff’s office is already expected to receive an almost $2 million increase over the $15.4 million in budgeted expenditures allotted to county law enforcement last year – and the sheriff’s jail operations could receive an almost $1 million boost from the jail’s $12.7 million budgeted last year. Schuster says those increases are valuable, but they aren’t enough.
“Last year was a bad year,” Schuster said at Monday’s meeting of the Mohave County Board of Supervisors. “And throughout last year, a turnover problem has remained at the jail. This year saw some measure of success, and we saw a slightly increased starting wage … but we have to move it forward from this point on.”
According to Schuster, Mohave County’s detention officers earn a starting pay of about $16 per hour. The county’s deputy sheriffs earn about $21 per hour, Schuster said, which is in some instances as much as 30% lower than other local law enforcement agencies.
“This is unacceptable,” Schuster said. “It will be an ongoing situation, and we will have to remain competitive. I lose sleep at night with issues at our jail. Tenure among corrections officers is low. If we have a corrections officer with three years at the jail, we consider him a veteran officer, and that’s a shame.”
According to Schuster, jail staff have been subjected to mandatory overtime for extended periods, high levels of stress and fatigue. Many of the jail’s corrections officers, Schuster says, will resign from their positions within their first several years of employment by the county. The sheriff’s office holds exit interviews when corrections officers resign from their posts, Schuster said. In almost all cases, former Mohave County corrections officers complain of low pay or “burnout.”
”The money we’re throwing at training and bringing in new hires doesn’t discount the fact we are losing veteran, seasoned officers – those are the ones we want to keep,” Schuster said. “We have to avoid going to that in the future, and the way to do that is by being competitive and consistent.”
Schuster says an additional $3 million would only be a start, however.
“I’m recommending a pay increase for deputies and corrections officials immediately,” Schuster said. “I’m asking for $3 million to increase the starting pay for detention officers and patrol deputies. What I want is $10 million … if you could find me $10 million right now, then overnight we would become a powerhouse agency that takes care of law enforcement in Mohave County. That’s the real fix … but I’ll settle for three.”
Since Schuster was elected in 2016, he has led efforts to reduce salary compression within the department and hire additional deputies and corrections officers to his staff. According to Schuster, his five years of collaboration with the board of supervisors has given additional strength to a department once foundering under decades of limited resources.
From 1991 to 2017, Mohave County’s population had doubled, while calls for emergency service throughout the county had tripled. When Schuster took office, he says vacancies in his department were at an all-time high, with more than 30% of his patrol staff positions unfilled.
“Compression has been a problem for a long time,” Schuster said. “We were partially able to fix compression in the past five years, but there’s still a way to go.”