The Pulaski County Court’s Budget Committee approved 13 new sheriff’s deputy positions, half the number requested by Sheriff Eric Higgins.
The decision followed Tuesday night’s discussion of Higgins’ request. Committee members were apprehensive about approving 26 new deputy mayor positions until an evaluation of the mayor’s office by the Centers for Public Safety Management was completed.
Higgins said the enforcement department needs time to train. The sergeant’s vacancies will be filled once the promotion process is complete, he said, “but 67% of the time, deputies have no reserve on the call” and have to “fight for 35 minutes” to receive additional help, he said.
The sheriff also said he can’t promote anyone until new officers have gone through their recruiting school, and he can’t wait until May or later for the department’s Public Safety Centers assessment to take place.
“The original plan was for it to be completed in November,” Higgins said. “When it’s not completed and we’re still dealing with data in January and February — I only have a window of time, once a year to ask for jobs, so I take the opportunity to ask for the same positions I asked for last year.”
A week earlier, Higgins had discovered that the center was planning to go to the site for part of the study.
Fifth Circuit Justice of the Peace Lily McMullen said she understood the positions were needed, but if the county board approves half of the deputies now, that will be redundant once the study is complete.
The Quorum Court will hold a budget follow-up meeting in May and June, where it will address additional positions.
In the Sheriff’s Detention Division, 39 sergeant positions have been approved to raise salaries. The Opioid, Stimulant and Substance Abuse and Substance Abuse Comprehensive Grant Program Counselor received a salary reduction for late grant submission.
The extension of sign-on bonuses for designated detention center employees from January 1 to July 1, 2023 was approved following discussion among members of the Quorum Court about other incentives available for employee retention.
In six months, new employees will receive $2,500 and in one year, another $2,500.
Higgins said the Detention Division currently has more than 100 vacancies. Phil Storrs, District 13 Justice of the Peace, asked Higgins what it would take to bring the prison to an adequate staff level.
“It’s a catch-22,” Higgins said. “When you’re short staffed and you hire people, and they don’t have time for their families, they leave, and then you have senior MPs who also leave because they’re tired of working and they don’t have time for their family.
“They go to work in Little Rock, they can go to work at the correctional center—we have a $5,000 bonus, Little Rock has a $10,000 bonus. The state police have increased our pay, so we’re always competitive with that. As we continue to do what works to bring in employees, we’ll get To the point where people can spend time with their families and have a balanced work life.”
Making repairs at the detention center is also a problem, Higgins said, as the facility was built for 1,210, but last summer it averaged 1,380. Repairs to the locks were done after “unlocking,” he added, and they are in the process of replacing the central control system so they don’t have to lock the cells. manually with the keys.
“Each of these, when you replace a system, you have to leave the unit open,” he said. “Right now we have an 80-bed unit that needs to be empty so we can replace its control system. And while we’re doing the repairs, I think it will help – retention is very important, we have to look at how do we retain the people who work there, how do we make them understand their value, And what benefits do we offer our employees?
Higgins noted that the lack of spousal coverage in health insurance plans has been a deterrent to potential employees, as other departments offer it.
The average working time for the job is three or four years, he said, but it takes about five years to “understand how to do the job.” He added that at the age of four and five, the agency loses employees.
“If there’s some way to use the salary range, however it looks like, whether it’s 10 years or 15 years to get to the top of the salary. If we can process the benefits, keep fixing the facility, get the hiring bonuses to help people come to his desire,” Higgins said. In survival, I think if we do these things, we can have a huge impact.”
Judge Storrs noted that the state has the same problem with prisons. When they offered spousal insurance, he said, only a small amount benefited him. Higgins said that was because they could not afford the monthly annuity rate.
Higgins explained that sign-on bonuses shouldn’t continue after another year, but they need to look at their retention rate because it’s not just the new people who leave.
In the Sheriff’s Enforcement Division, the titles of three Enforcement Clerks were changed to Enforcement Clerk II, 20 Sergeant positions were approved to raise salary, four Apprentice positions were approved, and new positions for Enforcement Clerk II and First Lieutenant were approved.
The department once had two intern positions that now give results for two deputy jurors, Higgins said. Higgins has stated that he began as a student when he joined the Little Rock Police Department and went on to serve for the next 30 years.
“I know the importance of introducing young people to the profession, giving them the opportunity to work in different fields, with the hope that they will realize the job opportunity and desire to be part of the organisation,” he said.