Sheriff: Shortage of COs at Ind. jail shows need for better pay

Sheriff Mike Grzegorek estimates a shortage of 25 COs at the St. Joseph County jail, contending raises are needed to correct the problem


By Ted Booker
South Bend Tribune, Ind.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — St. Joseph County Sheriff Mike Grzegorek estimates a shortage of 25 correction officers at the jail, contending raises are needed to correct the problem.

The county jail’s budget authorizes 145 correction officers, and the sheriff has proposed a 2019 budget that calls for approving a $1,725 raise for each of those positions — roughly $250,000 in total.

Grzegorek pitched the raises when he presented his 2019 budget proposal for the jail and police department at a meeting earlier this month with a small group of county officials. He said the shortage of correction officers is mainly because they’re being promoted to county police officers or leaving to take higher-paying jobs at other police agencies.

Up to 118 county police officers are authorized to be hired, Grzegorek said, and there are eight open spots. But he is reluctant to promote correction officers to those positions because of the staffing shortage at the jail.

“I still need to promote yet this year from the jail, but right now it’s very difficult when we’re running double shifts every day. We have five to 10 people (working mandatory shifts). It got so bad that people were calling in sick,” said Grzegorek, who will finish his term as sheriff at the end of this year.

Grzegorek said to address the staffing problem, he temporarily changed a policy so that correction officers don’t have to work 171 hours during a 28-day period to be eligible for overtime.

“I had to remove that just so people would volunteer and be a little bit happier. That has seemed to work right now to appease them,” he said. “Obviously that costs us a little bit more, but it sure beats losing more people.”

Some progress is being made to address the correction officer shortage. Six new hires are being trained as officers, Grzegorek said, and six people are in the process of being hired.

Grzegorek added that a year ago, the required age for becoming a correction officer was dropped from 21 to 18 to improve recruitment. But he is aware of only one person within that age range who applied for a job.

Correction officers last received raises in 2016, but Grzegorek said another pay bump is justified because “you have to stay competitive with other police agencies.”

A newly hired correction officer now starts with a salary of $36,000. Other officers earn salaries from $39,000 to $51,500. The deputy commander and commander, who would also get raises under the proposal, earn salaries of $59,000 and $64,000, respectively.

Raises for correction officers would be offset by savings from the jail’s food contract with Aramark Correctional Services.

The three-year contract, which started in April, has resulted in substantial savings. The jail’s former in-house kitchen staff of eight employees was hired by Aramark, saving the county $268,000 annually on salaries and benefits.

A 1.2 percent raise also has been requested for county police officers as part of the budget proposal, Grzegorek said.

Those raises would be offset by savings from changing the rank of certain positions after employees retired or took other jobs. The rank of a captain position was lowered to lieutenant, he said, and the rank for six sergeant positions was lowered to the patrolman level.

The request for police officer raises comes after they already received a 9.5 percent raise this year.

County Auditor Mike Hamann thinks the nine-member County Council will be receptive to approving raises for correction and police officers when the sheriff’s proposal is reviewed next month. That is because the money would be offset by savings in the jail and police budgets.

“Our policy is that if you can show you’ve saved money or are bringing in new money, you should have the flexibility of giving raises,” he said, adding that raises should help prevent officers from being “scooped up by other police departments.”

The Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 155, which represents county police officers, is pushing for a 3 percent raise — more than the 1.2 percent requested by Grzegorek. It would cost an additional $113,000, however, to increase raises from 1.2 to 3 percent.

“The council is looking at that pretty seriously,” Hamann said, “but I don’t know if they’re going to be able to do it.”

©2018 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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