JACKSON COUNTY, Ala. - Jackson County Sheriff’s Office officials told WHNT News 19 they are understaffed and underpaid, causing more and more deputies to leave their post for better-paying jobs.
“We’re seeing more crime. We’ve got more people in our jails. We’re making more trips to prison each and every day, and we’re doing it with the same manpower as they did 20 years ago,” said Chief Deputy Rocky Harnen.
Harnen said his department gets nothing from sales tax. He explained that while sales tax goes up for the city because of growth from the Google Data Center, the county is getting poorer because it has given the company tax abatements.
“I think our starting pay for deputies is probably similar to some other agencies. The problem is the next year, you don’t get the raise and the next year you don’t get the raise. Other agencies pass you,” said Harnen.
The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office lost a total of 19 over the last year, including corrections deputies at the jail. They were able to fill those open positions, but it takes time and resources to train those new hires.
“If you've got a deputy on the road that’s green, that’s never been on the road before, now we’ve got to get him trained. We’ve got to get him to learn the county. We’ve got to get him to learn how to deal with people, learn policies, procedures," said Harnen. "They’re no good to us for months, so we’re still shorthanded even though we’re here.”
Five deputies are assigned to each shift covering 1,100 square miles.
But every now and then someone is sick, another on vacation, and others are doing prison transports.
“Guess what, if you‘re on one end of the county and it takes you an hour to get to the other end of the county, people are going to be upset if they have a problem and we can’t get there quickly,” said Harnen.
Despite the pay and staffing situation, Harnen said his deputies will get the job done.
He said he does not want taxes to go up to help increase pay for deputies, but said something needs to be done soon to bring his department into the 21st century.
Harnen told WHNT News 19 the county is currently having a pay scale study done to see where Jackson County stands in comparison to other similar counties.