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ST. GEORGE – Hurricane Police Chief Lynn Excell spoke to city council in early July and reported that an already dire situation in many parts of southern Utah was getting worse in his neck of the woods.
“I’ll be very frank – and I understand this is a public meeting – but the point is we have to stop the bleeding,” he said.
Excell then described how a Hurricane police officer, a seven-year veteran of service, informed the chief that he had been hired to work in Washington City.
“Unfortunately, we have other communities in our own county which have done certain things and adapted their salary scales which encourage our agents, purely for economic reasons, to go to other departments,” he said. declared.
The council meeting that evening was held to discuss next year’s budget, and Excel asked council members to consider raising money to increase police salaries.
Excell said his agents love Hurricane and love serving this community, but when they can be better paid to do the same job in other municipalities, it is difficult for them to stay.
“The point is, I have lost five agents in the last six months,” Excell said. “If I lose five more, that’s 30% of our workforce gone in one year. And it is not sustainable. We have to stay competitive.
The hurricane scene reflected an issue impacting law enforcement in southwest Utah.
As the employment situation changes from agency to agency and fiscal year to fiscal year, some law enforcement agencies compete for a small pool of skilled employees.
Cedar City Police Chief Darin Adams recently hired two new patrol officers after city council made room in the budget to pay them.
Speaking to St. George News, Adams said that over the past two years in particular, the pool of qualified law enforcement candidates has suffered from a lack of quantity – and in some cases, lack of quality. .
“The national narrative, along with the rhetoric of fundraising and the attack on the police, made candidates guess if the career was the right thing for them, with the pay and what they face on a daily basis,” Adams noted.
However, he added, in this latest hiring wave he had around 40 applicants, 13 of whom were interviewed. The two who were hired were from Wasatch front-line agencies, Adams said, and a third hire is an active military member who will go through the police academy before joining the department.
“It was more candidates than we have had for a long time. Hope it wasn’t just an anomaly, ”Adams said. “It was interesting because it kind of invalidated the norm, especially over the past two years.”
The St. George Police Department is experiencing a crisis similar to that of the hurricane, but for different reasons.
While the Washington County Sheriff’s Office previously struggled with poaching issues, losing 42 law enforcement officers between 2016 and 2018, in the case of St. George, the increased need for officers didn’t is not the result of poaching, the pandemic or the increase in crime. Saint-Georges police sergeant. Tyrell Bangerter told St. George News it was just about growing.
“St. George and the surrounding area have experienced significant growth,” Bangerter said.
“Our police department needs to keep up – or at least catch up with this. … Obviously, more people in town can lead to a variety of problems and concerns and more service calls.
Fortunately, said Bangerter, St. George’s city council recently budgeted for new police officers.
“Our administration has approved several new positions, so we opened a hiring list so that we could fill those positions,” Bangerter said. “We are fortunate to have the support of our city leadership and they understand the needs of our city and our officers.
Bangerter recognized that a common need for employees creates competition.
“We recruit the best officers. We want the best qualified candidates to work for us, ”said Bangerter. “We hired from neighboring agencies, and they hired from ours. There may be a ripple effect.
He added that the police department recruits wherever it can to get the best candidates, both inside and outside the county and state.
Another law enforcement agency that actively recruits outside of its immediate vicinity can be found further north in Beaver County. Sheriff Cameron Noel told St. George News he is in desperate need of more officers. However, in their case, it is particularly in the correctional field.
Beaver County Correctional Facility, located at 2270 South 525 West in Beaver, is the county’s largest contract facility, with a capacity of 400 inmates, Noel said.
“I really have a hard time keeping the employees,” Noel said. “I am patrol officers, but mainly I am correctional officers. And I feel like every time I turn around, it just gets worse and worse. We are therefore in a situation that could certainly be devastating for our riding. I just can’t find anyone to work.
As a stopgap, Noel rotates the agency’s agents.
“Many of my patrollers who train on the road are certified to work in prison. So today I had to reassign a few just to cover some of the positions in (prison), ”he said.
This rotation, however, creates shortages in other areas. Noel said he had to reassign officers who normally worked on interstate security and school resources to cover prison shifts.
“What it does is remove them from my community,” he said.
Noel says he hopes to attract new officers from out of town, who wouldn’t mind commuting to work from Iron County, Millard County or even further afield.
“We have to do a hiring bonus and increase our hourly rate, so if someone at Cedar wants to commute, they will be able to earn enough money to make it worth it“, added Noël.
The Beaver County Commission approved a $ 2 per hour wage increase for sheriff’s officers at its meeting on Wednesday, Noel said.
“The commissioners have really supported me, and I appreciate them for doing so,” Noel said following the county action, noting that the salary increase applies to all certified officers currently employed, as well. than new recruits.
In addition to salary increases, the county is exploring other ideas and incentives, including the possibility of offering some form of housing assistance to new agents, Noel said.
Noel said he and other state sheriffs plan to ask Governor Spencer Cox and the Utah legislature for further help and solutions.
“All the sheriffs are meeting with the governor here in the next two weeks,” he added. “I think it will be one of our main priorities, explaining to the governor that this is a national crisis. It is a state crisis. And my riding and other rural counties are feeling it very strongly right now. “
However, while the Beaver County Correctional Facility is struggling, this does not appear to be an immediate threat to the employment situation at Iron County Jail, where Lt. Shalon Shaver has said things had improved.
“I got to work about two years ago and have hired a lot since then,” Shaver said. “This is the first time that we have posted a more or less full squad.
Shaver said she is looking to hire a nurse, but this is the only position open. The facility is one of the oldest functioning prisons in Utah. Shaver said it has a capacity of 256 beds and currently houses 145 inmates.
Shaver attributed a positive work environment to all prison staff.
“Of course we would love to be able to give our MPs a higher salary,” Shaver said. “That would be great. Right now we’re a good little family. I don’t know if we could do that elsewhere. We have a great team.
Cedar City News reporter Jeff Richards contributed to this report.
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