BCSO on pace to blow past jail overtime budget

Sheriff hopes new union contract could help recruitment and aid in perpetual jail staffing problems

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar went before Commissioners Court to get permission for another 69,000 thousand hours of mandatory overtime to keep the county jail staffed.

SAN ANTONIO – The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office is on pace to go over budget on jail overtime, though Sheriff Javier Salazar hopes a new union contract could help slow things down.

On Tuesday, Salazar appeared before the Bexar County Commissioners Court to request approval for 68,912 hours of paid overtime for uniformed officers working at the Bexar County jail between Dec. 11, 2021, and March 31. The request, which commissioners approved, puts the value of authorized overtime for the year so far at $5.5 million.

Although this is only Salazar’s second request for the fiscal year, which runs October 2021 through September 2022, staff say BCSO is on pace to use an estimated 348,316 hours of overtime, worth about $14 million. That would put the agency $5.7 million over its $8.3 million overtime budget.

In the 2020-2021 fiscal year, the sheriff’s office used $12.4 million worth of overtime out of an $8.9 million budget.

“It’s highly likely that we’re going to go over that allotted amount, just like every other major jail in the state of Texas is doing,” Salazar told KSAT after commissioners approved his request. “Other sheriffs and I have talked about how what -- what can we do to keep that from happening? We know we’re going to blow out our budgets to a certain extent. It’s just a matter of trying to minimize that.”

The sheriff’s office has struggled for years with maintaining staffing levels at the jail, which results in detention officers working overtime.

Salazar lists a host of issues at play.

There are 227 openings at the jail, and although BCSO successfully hired roughly 500 new people over two years, Salazar said, the agency struggles to retain deputies. From September through December last year, 155 deputies either resigned or retired.

Another 150 deputies were out Tuesday because of COVID-19, either for infection or exposure. Salazar said precautions against the disease have meant using more staff to account for leaving units at lower capacity.

“So while manpower struggles are part of it, COVID’s also still kicking us right in the teeth, Salazar told commissioners.

There’s also the overall jail population, which BCSO said averaged 4,161 inmates per day in December. Many of the inmates, the sheriff says, don’t need to be there.

“We’ve just got way too many inmates still in house that could be elsewhere, could be in a mental health facility, could be out with their friends and family if they were able to afford some of the bonds that are out there,” Salazar told commissioners. “And so I would continue to ask for your help in continuing to lower that, that inmate population.”

Salazar is hopeful that a new union contract for deputies, which commissioners are expected to take up on Feb. 8, could provide some relief.

The contract, which the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar County has already ratified, would raise deputy pay by more than 15 percent over the life of the contract and would also get rid of the agency’s current requirement to first work two years in the jail before becoming eligible for patrol.

“We’re going to be shouting that from the rooftops in an effort to try to -- not just hire new bodies but to rehire some of the ones that may have left for greener pastures somewhere else,” Salazar said of the pay raise.

“More bodies in blue to help shoulder that load is absolutely going to help bring down that overtime.”

Beyond that, Salazar says COVID-19 numbers need to subside among the whole community, and the courts need to move “more effectively than they have been” to process the people who are in jail awaiting trial.

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About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Luis Cienfuegos is a photographer at KSAT 12.