Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez has asked Commissioners Court to approve raises for most deputies, communications staff and detention officers, with the largest increases for entry-level employees.
He said he hopes the pay bumps will help lure better candidates and cut down on attrition, particularly among Harris County Jail employees.
“Especially on the retention side, we need a better starting pay because it’s a tough job,” Gonzalez said of jailers. “The attrition rate seems to be high for that role.”
Under the proposal, detention, communications and law enforcement officers up to the rank of captain would receive 3 percent raises. Senior deputies with more than 20 years of experience would receive an additional raise of $0.50 per hour. The raises also would apply to deputies in the county’s seven constable precincts.
Gonzalez’s plan also would eliminate the first pay scale step across all employment categories, raising the starting pay for detention officers and communications staff by 12.3 percent and deputies by 13.3 percent. Rookie jailers and communications staff would earn $39,395 per year, while deputies would be paid $50,814.
The raises would cost the county $17.8 million annually, which budget analyst Kevin Seat said would be paid for with higher property tax revenues.
Gonzalez said in the 20 months since he took office this past year, recruiting candidates for open positions has become more difficult. He said as the economy has improved, the sheriff’s office must compete with other law enforcement agencies, as well as the private sector.
The sheriff’s office has 20 vacancies for communications staff, 51 for detention officers and 318 for deputies, according to spokesman Jason Spencer.
Attrition is a particular problem for detention officers. On average, 23 leave the county each month, pressing the sheriff to find replacements to staff the filled-to-capacity Harris County Jail. The sheriff acknowledged that few people may look toward corrections as their first choice of employment.
“It’s difficult work and it’s not for everyone,” Gonzalez said. “Better pay always helps in that situation.”