NORTHWEST ARKANSAS – Industries across the state are feeling the effects of the labor shortage amid the pandemic this also includes law enforcement.
Crawford County’s Interim Sheriff Jimmy ‘James’ Damonte tells us they are having a tough time hiring and retaining staff, but they are not the only ones.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office says they are suffering the greatest staffing shortage they have ever experienced. They have 67 current open positions out of 327 across the sheriff’s office.
Public Relations Director, Kelly Cantrell tells us the agency went from getting hundreds of applicants for open positions, just a short few years ago, now down to just a few applicants a week.
Over in Crawford County, same story.
“I’ve got 81 staff members, we’re down 9 ppl. We’ve been down for a while. As soon as I get them hired, I lose another. I’m always in a deficit as far as employees,” said Damonte.
Damonte says the pool gets even smaller because some don’t pass the background check or entrance exam. He adds that the shortage is creating some major challenges for the agency.
“We don’t stop. I can’t shut our doors. So, I have people working, and they work overtime. That’s stress on people because they are working longer hours, they’re tired. They are here more and away from their families,’ said Damonte.
He adds it’s hard to compete with other jobs, that are less demanding or offer better pay and hours.
Both agencies believe the pandemic is also playing a role in adding more stressors and causing some folks to look elsewhere for work.
“The pandemic has required us to make many changes in how we do things. As an example, during the height of the pandemic, detention officers had to start wearing an N95 mask, face shield, and other protective gear for their full 12-hour shift while doing their daily tasks and caring for the detainees. Things like this created more of a challenge and stress for employees who were already working in an extremely demanding and stressful environment. This has led many to seek employment elsewhere, creating an even greater workload on the employees who remain committed to their job and our community.” said Cantrell.
The agencies are focused on attracting new employees but also retaining the staff they currently have.
Damonte says his staff is working really hard to get the word out there about their current openings. He wants to be able to get qualified people who are passionate about serving their communities and law enforcement.
However, to be able to compete with other jobs means higher wages and better benefits packages. He adds having proper staffing will also take the workload off current employees.
“My staff works hard, they work diligently trying to get applicants and trying to put it out there that we are hitting people. We are trying to get some things done through the quorum court to better the pay and benefits to try to retain people,” said Damonte.
He’s hopeful things will turn around.
“We have a very good quorum court right now, probably one of the best I’ve seen. They are very pro-employee and very pro-law enforcement, which is good,” said Damonte.
Cantrell says they are also working with their quorum court on increasing pay and incentives for employees.
“Our hope is that this will create interest in the open positions, increase the application pool, and help retain our current employees,” said Cantrell.
The agency is also working on the state and local level with the Arkansas Sheriff’s Association and the Northwest Arkansas Council to address employment issues.
Both agencies continue to advertise their jobs openings on job sites and social media, participating in job fairs and word of mouth to get workers in.