Denton County Sheriff's office file

Despite efforts to incentivize detention officers and build morale, the Denton County Sheriff’s office is seeing a higher shortage of detention officers than it did in September.

“To be honest with you, I’m amazed at the work and the overtime my employees are doing right now just to be able to keep the doors open and be able to provide the services that we’re required to do by law,” Assistant Chief Barry Caver said.

In September, the office was a little over 100 detention officers short, Caver said. In a previous interview, Capt. Kelly Fair said the average was anywhere from 25 to 40 vacancies.

Now, the office is facing 134 vacancies and a continued shortage of applicants. Caver said the office sees fewer than 10 applicants per week, and only about a third make it past a background check. Added to that is the fact that area law enforcement agencies are all competing for the same applicants.

“It’s just really, really dire right now,” Caver said.

In September, Denton County Commissioners approved an emergency temporary increase in overtime pay for detention officers in an effort to avoid losing staff amid what Sheriff Tracy Murphree described as a “crisis.” The temporary adjustment is slated to end on Dec. 31.

This week, the office once again approached commissioners to ask for an extension on the item so that it will last until March 31, a measure Caver said comes in an effort to retain current employees.

Meanwhile, Caver said, the office is looking at how to attract new applicants, including by going to job fairs and appealing to online platforms in an effort to attract a younger audience.

The office must maintain a certain ratio as mandated by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Caver said.

“If we drop below that, we’re subject to being closed down or we’ll have to make other arrangements, like shipping inmates to other facilities and that sort of thing,” he said. “That sounds good just us talking about it, but the problem is where am I going to send them to? Because everybody else is in the same boat I am.”

Caver said he gets calls almost daily asking about extra bed space for inmates. While he has the extra bed space, he said, he doesn’t have the staff to cover it.

“That’s the problem, that everybody else has the same issue, and there’s just no place to put them,” he said. “I don’t know what the answer is, and I don’t know what the relief is, because it’s going to get so to the point that the state may have to make special exemptions to allow us to work with less staff than we’re required to. Whether or not that happens is…who knows. But I’m afraid it’s going to get to that point at some point in time.”

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