Despite having access to some of the newest tools available for law enforcement, many aspects of the Dickinson County Sheriff’s Department are stuck in the 1990s.
Sheriff Jerry Davis and Undersheriff Brian Hornaday met with commissioners Feb. 4 during work session to answer questions, voice concerns and talk about a number of topics, including the retention of corrections officers.
Commissioner Craig Chamberlin asked if detention officers are being hired with the intention of promoting them in the future and providing incentives to stay in the corrections field.
“I don’t want to see us making it a dead end job,” Chamberlin said.
Approximately six years ago Dickinson County Commissioners spent considerable time touring jails in the Midwest, conducting research to build the jail currently under construction. During that process Chamberlin learned those other facilities considered the job of corrections officer a profession.
Since then, Chamberlin has expressed concern numerous times about turnover in the Dickinson County jail and asked about opportunities for advancement. Last week, those concerns were addressed.
Davis said staffing (from road deputies to administrative staff to jail personnel) is something he and Hornaday have talked about for months and they have met with all staff and officers about their feelings and concerns.
Speaking specifically about the jail, Davis said it’s apparent that most detention officers want to stay in corrections and are not interested in becoming road deputies.
Davis said he and Hornaday are working to implement a protocol where a detention officer can move up based on either years of service or meeting certain training criteria.
“We want to keep them there (working in the jail) and give them some incentive to keep moving forward,” Davis said.
They plan to create job descriptions for detention officers to move up the ranks — starting at detention officer 1, then 2 and 3 and detention sergeant to “give them something to shoot for and hopefully retain staff,” Davis explained.
Chamberlin commented that one year the county went through five new detention officers and when he examined the job description he could find no reason for people to stay.
“From what I could see, the only difference (between detention officer 1 and 2) was you were either 18 years old or 21 years old. There just wasn’t any incentive. I’m glad you’re taking these steps to make it a profession instead of a job,” Chamberlin said.
Lack of basic training
Davis also is concerned about a lack of basic corrections’ training.
“Right now, they’re basically lock turners,” Davis said. “We’ve got very good people who work in the jail and they want to remain working there, but we’re not providing them the training or the tools to succeed.”
Four corrections officers were sent to training at the Kansas Jail Association Academy in Hutchinson last week and in March two detention officers are scheduled to attend controlled force training which is basically self-defense, Davis said. Once those officers are trained, they will train other jail staff.
He wants staff to know “less than lethal training” which will give them the knowledge to handle various situations that might arise in the jail.
“It’s a matter of getting folks trained right now and implementing this process of steps,” Davis said.
Commissioner Ron Roller, who serves on the board of the North Central Kansas Regional Juvenile Detention Facility in Junction City, said he knows how important proper training is for officers at that facility.
“The first thing legal asks is what their training has been and that’s the first thing that pops up,” Roller said. “We (detention center board) would have been in a whole lot of hot water a couple times if they hadn’t had their training.”
Jail operations, standards
Undersheriff Hornaday noted that the Dickinson County jail currently has 16, soon to be 17, staff and no one — with the exception of jail administrator Capt. Mark Anderson — has had a full training class in the application of handcuffs.
Despite the lack of training, those officers are being asked to deal with a variety of issues that arise in the jail — including people with significant mental health problems.
“We’re asking them (officers) to solve those problems when we haven’t even trained them to use handcuffs properly. Legally, that’s a recipe for disaster,” Hornaday said.
“We’re literally starting at the ground level, creating a foundation, and we’re going to move up,” he continued. “Sheriff Davis and I are unbelievably excited to see what it looks like in 12 months time and in years 2, 3 and 4. You’ll see a substantial difference, but there are costs associated with it.”
Sheriff’s staff members plan to meet with the Human Resources Department to determine job descriptions for the new detention officer positions and compensation.
Davis noted he came into office with his department having a $2,000 training budge which has already been spent. He said the county budgeting process has been a “learning experience,” and Finance Director Janelle Dockendorf has been helpful explaining how it works.
Chamberlin asked about the evaluation process, questioning who will be doing the evaluating and how often staff is evaluated. Rather than only one evaluation per year, Chamberlin said he would rather see semi-annual evaluations to give employees time to correct bad behavior.
Davis replied that he and Hornaday already conduct reviews on a “pretty much daily” basis.
“If we have issues with an officer, we address that directly with the officer,” Davis said. “Right now it’s just teaching them the different things we need them to do. Not really calling them on the carpet.”
Hornaday said one of the biggest issues involving the proper evaluation of all officers and staff is the lack of updated job descriptions.
“Every single position in the sheriff’s office all the way up from the bottom to mine, they (job descriptions) are substantially out of date,” Hornaday said. “We’re operating as if it’s 20 years ago in many aspects.”
Contact Kathy Hageman at firstname.lastname@example.org.