County Chair Karen Dill Bowerman reports county staff and Guild representatives scheduled to meet this week
There is a staffing crisis in the Clark County Sheriff’s Office (CCSO).
On Monday, Clark County Sheriff Chuck Atkins issued a statement informing area residents that, beginning March 31, Clark County patrol deputies will no longer respond to calls for several different types of service. Sheriff Atkins also urged members of the Clark County Council to take immediate action on suggested staffing solutions. This decision comes just two months after Atkins reported during a virtual town hall event on rising property crime held in January that CCSO data shows a 33-percent increase in lower-level crime and a 48-percent increase in auto thefts in the unincorporated areas of the county.
One Tuesday, the Clark County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild issued a statement providing additional details of the severity of the staffing crisis.
“The Clark County Sheriff’s Office has reached a critical level of staffing in all branches. In the past year Clark County residents have seen unprecedented increases in crime, and a troubling decrease in livability in the county we call home,’’ the press release stated. “The law enforcement professionals of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office are dedicated to public safety. In February, all four guilds reached out to CCSO administration with concerns about the extraordinary staffing shortages and the needs for change at the county level to assist us in providing and assuring public safety. On March 2nd these concerns were brought to the County Councilors and County Manager Kathleen Otto by CCSO Administration.
“The message was clear. For years law enforcement agencies in our local area and across the nation have been creative and proactive in their efforts to recruit and retain adequate and safe staffing levels. CCSO employees have pushed for our county to provide similar incentives for the past few years, but our requests have not been heard. In the past year, despite our department’s attempts at recruitment efforts, we have seen our applicant pool diminish to non-existent. More alarming, we are now seeing our employees leave our agency in droves to other local agencies who offer hiring bonuses and incentive packages that show a dedication to public safety. CCSO employees can currently lateral to local agencies within Clark County and make twenty percent more in salary and be provided a $25,000 signing bonus.’’
Sgt. Brian Kessel, president of the Deputy Sheriff’s Guild, told Clark County Today there are currently 48 total vacancies in CCSO staffing: 14 of those vacancies are in the support branch; there are 20 vacancies in the jail staff; and 14 vacancies in enforcement..
“Law enforcement staffing is measured in a ratio of officers per 1000 citizens,’’ read the Deputy Sheriff’s Guild press release. “Washington State has the lowest ratio of all states in the nation. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office has the lowest ratio in the state at .57 deputies per 1000 residents. All the while, Clark County’s population is increasing at a rate higher than Clackamas, Washington and Multnomah counties combined.
“These staffing shortages have tremendous adverse effects on the communities we serve. We have stood by and watched as low staffing levels in the jail have caused significant limitations on which types and degrees of crimes for which criminals can be arrested and housed in the Clark County Jail. The un-safe numbers of deputies on patrol has caused frequent instances of temporary service cuts and likely upcoming long-term service cuts to the crimes we are able to safely respond to. The result, more criminals and less deputies on the streets.’’
Kessel told Clark County Today that shift minimums in the CCSO West Precinct and Central Precinct are three patrol deputies. However, in recent months, the department has had to relax those minimums.
“Our deputies are tired from all the overtime work,’’ said Kessel, who indicated on recent graveyard shifts there have been just two patrol deputies on duty.
“For Clark County citizens this means a continued decline in the quality of life and safety in our communities,’’ read the Guild’s Tuesday press release. “Community members tell us daily they are fed up with the increases in lawlessness in our county. We have heard your concerns. We want to be there for you when you need us, unfortunately, our county’s absence of commitment to your safety leaves us potentially unavailable at your time of need.
“We are in this with you, but we cannot do it alone. If you are concerned about our County Administration’s lack of dedication to public safety, we urge you to reach out to your County Councilors and County Manager. We are all in this together to make Clark County the beautiful, safe community we remember.’’
Kessel said CCSO staff and the Deputy Sheriff’s Guild haven’t been able “to get any traction’’ in their efforts with the members of the County Council or county staff.
“We are bleeding out here; our agency is seeing people leave in droves,’’ he said. “Things are just going to get worse.
“We need staffing and we can’t get anyone to come work for our agency if we’re not competitive in the job market,’’ Sgt. Kessel added.
The contract between the county and the CCSO is collectively bargained. The current agreement expires at the end of the year (2022).
“Part of the problem is a lack of creativity on the part of the county,’’ he said. “The county hasn’t looked outside the box.’’
There are no current negotiations between the two parties on a new agreement. However, Kessel stated in an email to Clark County Today, “The Guild and County can mutually agree through collective bargaining to modify an existing CBA by either immediately making changes (example, adding retention bonuses through a memorandum of agreement) or by extending it (example, agreeing to extend the existing CBA by another year with agreed-upon, significant wage increases).’’
When reached by Clark County Today for comment on the situation, County Chair Karen Dill Bowerman began the discussion by expressing support for the CCSO.
“I think it is important for people to understand the council in general is 100 percent in support of the sheriff’s deputies and the work the department does,’’ Bowerman said. “There is absolutely no question about that.
“It is tradition that when the contract is up, both parties bargain various provisions,’’ Bowerman said. “But, in the interim when both parties agree, and when there are special circumstances, the parties may bargain, usually on specified narrow provisions. I would maintain that we are in this situation now.
“The Guild and the County can mutually agree through CB to make various changes,’’ Bowerman wrote in an email. “That is precisely what the County has been attempting to do within the financial parameters set by Council. In fact, this past week, the County staff who are authorized to bargain have been reaching out to the Guild. It is my understanding that the staff and Guild have a date set this week to bargain.’’
Bowerman is hopeful a solution can be found to the CCSO staffing crisis.
“I hope that the collective bargaining process is fruitful and goes very well because, goodness knows, improvements need to be made for us to be more financially competitive in recruiting potential officers,’’ Bowerman said.