San Antonio – Commissioners approved a $3.9 million request Tuesday for overtime at the Bexar County Jail in a move Sheriff Javier Salazar says is necessary to maintain proper staffing through the final four months of the fiscal year.
The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office requested authorization for 96,170 mandatory overtime hours for uniformed officers working May 31 through Sep. 30. The request, according to county budget staff analysis, pushes the estimated cost of jail overtime for the year to $12.4 million -- 39% over the county’s $8.8 million budget.
BCSO is required to maintain certain staffing levels at the jail, and Sheriff Javier Salazar attributed the need for the extra mandatory overtime to issues like COVID-19 protocols as well as a large jail population.
At the heart of the issue, though, remains BCSO’s perpetual staffing problem. The jail had 190 vacancies as of Jun. 17, according to documentation associated with the request.
Salazar says the issue is primarily with retaining deputies, who he says are leaving the department after two or three years, whether for other agencies or for new professions completely outside of law enforcement.
“We’ve successfully recruited and hired 300 or 400 people in the last year or two,” he told KSAT. “So recruitment isn’t necessarily the issue. It’s retention. They’re moving on to higher-paying jobs. They’re moving on to jobs that are not in a paramilitary environment like what we have at the sheriff’s office.”
Without the personnel to staff the jail, Salazar says bringing down the population could provide some relief.
The jail has 146 inmates who Salazar says are technical violators “the state of Texas is mad at, and yet they’re leaving them with us.”
The sheriff also said he knows “for a fact there’s a couple hundred people in the county jail right now that are only there simply because there’s not another place to take them. They should be in a mental health facility somewhere staffed with doctors and nurses, instead of deputies wearing badges. But by default, that’s what I end up with is a couple of hundred of those folks that need to be elsewhere.”
Though commissioners unanimously approved the overtime request, it was done more resignedly than readily, as they discussed ways to fix the jail’s staffing situation in the long term.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Trish DeBerry suggested bringing on a consultant, which the other commissioners agreed to add to a future agenda.
“I think we’re at a point where I would like to make a motion that we hire a jail consultant to be able to work with you all to figure out what are proactive solutions regarding manpower allocation, staffing, inventive ideas on what we can do,” DeBerry told Salazar at Tuesday’s meeting. “I don’t pretend to be a law enforcement expert. I can tell you from the private sector, if I were operating in a business like this, I would not be in business anymore. But I understand it is the environment in which we live. So I’m just saying I would like to be able to get you some help.”
The sheriff said if the county brings in a consultant to help with jail operations, “sweet, but we need a separate consultant to help us with recruitment and retention.”
Salazar hopes the ongoing negotiations with the deputies’ union could yield a contract with “a decent pay raise,” which could, in turn, help keep deputies at BCSO.
“That’s what’s going to make us competitive - not just with other agencies, but with other companies that are right now struggling to find qualified candidates to hire,” Salazar said.