Denton County has approved an emergency temporary increase in overtime pay for its detention officers in an effort to avoid losing staff amid what Sheriff Tracy Murphree described as a “crisis.”
On Tuesday, the Denton County Commissioners Court unanimously approved temporarily increasing overtime pay for detention officers with the Denton County Sheriff’s Office to double instead of time and a half.
Murphree told commissioners that detention officers were trying to maintain both quality and mandated requirements.
“In order to do those things, recently, we’ve had to require some overtime,” Murphree said. “We’ve had to cancel some vacations. We’ve had to cancel some days off. And it’s difficult. These people have families, they have lives outside of this.”
The emergency pay adjustment is not a recruitment tool, Murphree said.
“We’re trying to stop the exit,” he said. “We’re trying to stop these folks that have just had about all they can take.”
The temporary change goes into effect Sept. 11 and will last until Dec. 31, according to Denton County Judge Andy Eads.
“COVID has had lots of different ramifications that we’re all very well aware of, and some that we’re not,” Eads said Tuesday. “And one of those ramifications is we’ve had a really difficult time here at Denton County, and I would say the jails across Texas have had a very difficult time attracting and retaining qualified applicants and employees for detention officers.”
Murphree said staff currently includes about 320 detention officers and that there is a shortage of about 100 people.
“They’re there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," Murphree said, “We have shifts working all night long and when you go to somewhere and make the same or more money and not have to work deep nights and put up with what those men and women have to put up with, it’s understandable.”
Murphree said the pay adjustment might incentivize more jail staff to volunteer for overtime instead of being forced to do it while others may not take advantage of the option and opt to take a day off and be with their families.
“I actually think this may cut down on the amount of people that we’re paying overtime now, and it may even out because we’re going double time,” he said.
Murphree described a “morale crisis,” adding that there are 1,200 people at the jail.
“It’s like a small Denton County community, and there are cases of COVID that are in the jail,” he said.
He added that the Sheriff’s Office recently lost a chaplain and a detention officer to COVID-19.
“So they have that in the back of their mind,” he said. “The things they have to deal with and some of the people they have to deal with, and at the same time, they don’t get those two days off. They get one day off or they had a vacation planned, and then we can’t do it because we’re going to be understaffed. So morale is a huge issue, and I think this...hopefully this is going to help with some of that morale issue as well.”
Murphree said there were still a few applicants “trickling in” and getting hired. He also said he would not be lowering hiring standards.
“I’m fully confident that we’re going to get back to some sort of normal rate of folks who are coming in, and that way we can get those numbers back to where they need to be,” Murphree said.