The Durham County Sheriff’s Office pays $2.7 million in overtime in one year

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Durham, North Carolina — As the Durham County Sheriff’s Office struggles to fill vacancies, WRAL Investigates found that they paid $2.7 million in overtime in one year.

More than a quarter of the positions in the Durham County Sheriff’s Office are vacant according to a public records request showing that 125 of the 468 positions are not filled.

Of the positions in the sheriff’s office, there are 103 vacancies out of a total of 228 available at the Durham County Detention Centre, with staff working the most overtime.

In total, sheriff’s office employees put in more than 66,000 hours of overtime in the 2024 calendar year. The overtime pay of $2.7 million is more than three times what the county budgeted for.

“It’s certainly, at the state level, a huge concern,” said Eddie Caldwell, North Carolina Association of Sheriffs executive vice president and general counsel.

Caldwell said the staffing crisis is not unique to Durham.

“Just in every business I go in, there [are] “I asked for help,” Caldwell said. “I don’t think law enforcement is any different from any other employment situation. Everyone struggles.”

However, Caldwell explained the main difference between a law enforcement officer and an ordinary employee.

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“Law enforcement can’t hire someone off the street today and put them to work tomorrow,” Caldwell said. “They must undergo the basic law enforcement training course.”

Figures from the sheriff’s office show the top 10 earners of overtime pay last year, at least eight of whom worked in prison.

One sergeant took home over $50,000 in overtime alone.

Caldwell said sheriffs should be aware of burnout.

“Just because someone has worked a lot of overtime doesn’t necessarily mean they have burnout issues,” Caldwell said.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office wrote, “None of these numbers should be interpreted as an indication that there is insufficient coverage in all areas of the agency.”

WRAL Investigates requested an interview with Sheriff Clarence Birkhead several days before this story was published. A Birkhead spokesman said it was not available.