Weld County commissioners are questioning the Sheriff’s Office for a handful of extended vacancies at the Weld County Jail.
Hovering near 15 vacant positions for the past year, commissioners earlier this month criticized a renewal of contracts that lend 10 Sheriff’s deputies to small towns that don’t have their own police force.
But Weld Sheriff John Cooke said the vacancies have not been an issue, and the service agreements have nothing to do with the jail. Taking patrol officers from those small towns and moving them to work in corrections would be like asking reporters to fill in for a shortage of advertisers at the same newspaper, or substituting pilot vacancies with flight attendants, he said.
Cooke said the county had to hire about 80 new corrections deputies when the jail was moved from downtown Greeley in 1996, and has never quite reached a full staff because the jail has a higher turnover rate than most other positions.
“It’s the nature of the beast,” Cooke said. “There is typically more use of force in corrections than in patrol,” often because of unruly inmates, he said. “The job isn’t for everyone.”
Many deputies start in corrections to get their foot in the door, Cooke said. With so many transfers, he said corrections — which includes the Weld County Courthouse — loses about one person every four to six weeks.
Weld Commission Chairman Sean Conway said he is happy with how the jail has been run, but his concern is public safety.
“When there’s a lot of mandatory overtime, you risk the safety of deputies and inmates,” Conway said. He said he and other commissioners understand the jail is not under their purview, but Conway said he doesn’t want other programs such as the service agreements and the two deputies hired for next year — one will track down fugitives full time — to draw attention from the jail.
“I want us to focus on what I believe has been a growing problem ... We need to work together to get those positions filled,” Conway said.
Cooke said deputies at the jail used to work four 12 hour shifts per week, but have been working mandatory overtime at five 12-hour shifts per week.
He said contracting out deputies is necessary because if something happens in one of those small towns, Weld deputies would be responding anyway. This way, he said, the Sheriff’s Office gets reimbursed for their service.
Garden City, Mead, Kennesburg, Severance, Hudson, Aims Community College and Weld School District RE-3J hire Sheriff’s Office deputies for law enforcement. The school pays the deputy directly for part-time service, Cooke said, so technically 9.5 full time positions are hired out.
Cooke said it’s also difficult to find qualified candidates to hire in corrections. Most applicants are eliminated in the process of a written test, phone interview, physical exam, polygraph test, background check, psychiatric exam and a face-to-face interview, he said.
Even so, Cooke said he hopes to have the jail fully staffed by January. At 11 vacancies, plus an anticipated two transfers, he said he plans to add 13 new deputies to the 174 corrections officers now.