About a year ago, the Denton County Sheriff’s Office was short about 25 detention officers. Now, that number has increased to over 100.
“I would say anywhere between 25 to 35, 40 I would consider average,” Capt. Kelly Fair said. “But over 100, this is not normal.”
Today, the office is looking to hire more detention officers amid a shortage of applicants.
Fair said before, the office would see about 50 applicants per week for its detention officer positions. Lately, that number has trickled down, and the office has since seen weeks where just 10 or 15 applicants come in.
“I think that there’s a lot of availability right now for positions, and unfortunately, our field is 24/7, we work all shifts and holidays and weekends, and there’s some overtime that’s required, where you don’t see that in a lot of other professions,” Fair said.
That decline also comes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a factor that Fair said she personally thinks could be playing a role.
“I think that when folks could make more money on unemployment, you don’t see the numbers of people applying to come out into the workforce,” she said. “But of course you know we’re in a secured facility, so we are surrounded by people that may or may not have COVID, and I think people are just scared of the unknown.”
However, the office started slowly seeing the decline even before the pandemic: about two and a half years ago, to be exact. When the pandemic did hit, the decrease got sharper.
“It’s nationwide, but a lot of the counties, Collin, Dallas, Tarrant, we’re all struggling to get employees and get people to come into the law enforcement career field,” Fair said.
About half of the applicants who come in are not qualified, Fair said, and those who are qualified and get interviewed don’t necessarily make it through the whole process, which includes filling out a roughly 43-page personal history statement. Fair said it can take up to 90 days to get hired due to steps like testing and background investigations.
“It’s really just to ensure that we’re hiring the best possible person because they are coming into the law enforcement field,” Fair said.
Detention officers' starting salary ranges from $39,915 to $46,301 depending on education and experience, Fair said. The office is using different types of job announcements to try and get the word out, she said.
“That’s really what we’re trying to figure out is how to attract either folks who want a career change, you know, maybe that have decided they are no longer interested in doing what they originally started doing, and then also something to attract younger generations that want to get involved and help the community,” Fair said.
Minimum qualifications for the job include being 18 years old, having a high school diploma or a GED, being a U.S. citizen and having a Texas Commission on Law Enforcement certification within one year of employment.