Walton County Sheriff Joe Chapman is looking for a few good men or women and the money to pay them, and the ones he already has, a little more.
“Today I am 23 deputies short – and that hurts us,” Chapman said to attendees Friday at the TRIAD meeting, adding he believed he was going to have to go to war with some members of the Walton County Board of Commissioners over the issue. “I am about to start a war with the Chairman of Board of Commissioners so I can hire more people and keep the ones I got. We have got good deputies, but we need more. When that time comes that is going to be a battle I pick. I pick and choose my battles, but that is one I will pick.”
The battle to get those raises is now under way and Chapman is using Social Media to get his message out. He has asked for the public’s help in a WCSO post on its Facebook page.
“We are losing deputies and jail staff at an alarming rate. Why?” the post asks. “Because we don’t pay nearly as much as surrounding counties. Last month, our deputies answered 5921 calls for service and checked 7028 buildings to be sure they were not burglarized. All of this was done with fewer than adequate staff.”
Chapman has asked for a 10 percent raise for deputies, including jail personnel. He told attendees at the TRIAD meeting that with other agencies paying higher rates, sheriff’s offices were having difficulty retaining staff. State law enforcement officers got a 20 percent pay raise, effective Jan. 1 this year, exacerbating the problem for local law enforcement departments trying to hold on to deputies and officers. With the current anti-law enforcement atmosphere nationwide, there is less incentive for people to go into law enforcement, so the pool to draw from is shrinking as well.
Chapman said he has the help of some of the members of the BOC, most notably Commissioner Mark Banks, who wrote a letter to his fellow board members asking that they consider the 10 percent pay raise that the Walton County Sheriff is asking for, opening it with the words, “HELP POLICE.” Banks noted those are words you hope to never have to use. He ended with the suggestion that those words now need to be used in another context, suggesting it should be a cry on their behalf, even if it were to require a raise in taxes.
“I am usually not in favor of tax increases, however, this is one that I support regardless of any present, or future, political aspirations. I am now asking the citizens of Walton County, the business community, civic organizations, but most of all, the Walton County Board of Commissioners, to support a 10 percent pay increase for all sworn officers and jailers at the Walton County Sheriff’s Department,” Banks wrote.