SAN ANTONIO – Watch the KSAT Investigates report on the Nightbeat at 10.
Bexar County Sheriff’s deputies have lost out on more than $680,000 in accrued leave each of the past two years, internal records obtained by KSAT Investigates show.
The relinquishing of so-called “use it or lose it” time is the latest sign of staffing woes that are plaguing the law enforcement agency.
“We’ve got people working in the jail right now that are pushing 80-90 hours a week. On top of that, they’re not getting time off because they can’t,” said Lt. Ron Tooke, president of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar County.
Deputies losing vacation time has long been an issue for the county, but first reached the six-figure level in fiscal year 2019 and has been rapidly increasing ever since.
This fiscal year, detention and law enforcement deputies combined to relinquish more than $242,000 worth of time, county records confirm.
Holiday time, according to the same records, is an even more pressing issue.
Deputies first began losing accrued holiday time in fiscal year 2020, and they gave up more than $511,000 worth of this type of leave in fiscal year 2021 alone, the records show.
“It’s an unfortunate byproduct of the fact that they’re working so much, that they’re not able to take time off to be with their families,” said Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar.
Salazar in recent years has triggered a section of the collective bargaining agreement that allows deputies to carry over holiday leave in excess of 144 hours to the next year.
In multiple letters sent to County Manager David Smith announcing that he was granting the exception, Salazar implored Smith to treat other types of leave accruals in the same manner.
“We hadn’t really gotten much of a response,” Salazar told KSAT after a recent appearance at commissioners court.
The interview came moments after Salazar asked commissioners to approve $2.7 million to cover mandatory overtime hours at the jail from early October through just before Christmas.
Commissioners instead approved $2.2 million in OT funding, a decision Salazar said would likely force him to return to court in the not-too-distant future to ask for more money.
“The two main ways of reducing overtime in the jail are to add more deputies or to lessen the jail population,” said Salazar.
County officials declined to make Smith available for an interview for this story and in recent weeks have distanced him from the issue of deputies relinquishing leave time.
“In the August 9, 2022 Sheriff’s Letter to David Smith, (Sheriff Salazar) states that ‘The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office is granting the exception (that allows for an extension of holiday hours), in good faith, allowing holiday leave in excess of 144 hours on October 1, 2022, to be carried over in to the next fiscal year.’ If for whatever reason, his directive is not being carried out and deputies are losing their vacation & holiday hours, then the Sheriff needs to make sure his timekeeping staff are entering the deputies’ information into their timekeeping system correctly and making the notations that this leave is to be carried over,” county spokeswoman Monica Ramos said via email.
Ramos reiterated in a second email that Smith does not have access to or play a role in the county timekeeping process.
Salazar said after KSAT began digging for information on the issue, he was contacted by the county and told to direct his request to the auditor’s office.
An email chain shared with KSAT on Wednesday shows several county departments are now involved in getting leave hours restored for deputies.
Smith is part of that email chain, records show.
Salazar, meanwhile, helped write two initiatives that he hopes will help with BCSO staffing levels.
The first would allow permanent legal residents who served honorably in the military to obtain a jailer or peace officer’s license.
Salazar and other county officials hope it will gain traction during the upcoming Texas legislative session.
The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement only allows naturalized U.S. citizens to hold these licenses currently, Salazar said.
The second initiative would offer to cover deputies’ college tuition in hopes of retaining them with the agency for a longer period of time.
As of this fall, BCSO had 296 detention vacancies.
Salazar has long harped on the issue of people being held at the jail who should instead be at Texas Department of Criminal Justice prisons, rehab facilities or at mental health hospitals.
He said the portion of inmates who fall into one of these three categories is around 15% of the total jail population this month.