Second Bexar County jail study focuses on morale improvements to fight staffing shortage

Sheriff says much of consultant’s presentation “is music to my ears”

SAN ANTONIO – For the second time in two months, a consultant recommends changes to help the Bexar County jail to help address its chronic under-staffing problems.

Hired in fall 2021 to evaluate the jail and its operations, American Correctional Consultants President E. Keith Neely presented his findings and recommendations to Bexar County commissioners Tuesday. Though jail staffing was just one aspect of his review, it remains a primary focus for commissioners.

“I think there’s a fiscal breaking point that we’re going to get to where we just can’t simply afford millions and millions of dollars of overtime,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Justin Rodriguez said during the meeting.

Sheriff Javier Salazar says there are roughly 230 unfilled positions at the jail as his office struggles to keep the jail appropriately staffed. The resulting forced overtime for detention deputies costs more than dollars, though.

“Morale was an issue when I was at the jail talking with staff. And it’s no secret; overtime is the driving factor of that,” Neely said.

Most of his recommendations related to staffing revolved around increasing morale through ideas like revamping break rooms, considering performance awards, and implementing bi-annual town hall meetings between all staff and the jail leadership team.

Neely also recommended switching sworn deputies from administrative work that civilian employees could do.

“These are certified detention deputies that are valuable resources that, quite frankly, should be working in operations, maybe reducing overtime,” he said.

His presentation showed that BCSO’s starting pay lags behind other major Texas metro areas like Harris, Travis, Tarrant, and Dallas counties, though each had at least a 10 percent higher cost of living.

However, Neely did not include any recommendations for further raising pay beyond a proposal to offer $5,000 to officers with at least five years of service who are in the process of purchasing a home.

The numerous other recommendations for the jail and its operations included considering changes to its booking procedures, modifying policies, and possibly using a tracking system to log inmate locations.

The ACC report came in just under two months after a similar report by Detain, Inc., which Salazar commissioned himself using asset forfeiture funds.

Salazar acknowledged the ACC and Detain, Inc. reports, which rose out of his and former Precinct 3 Commissioner Trish DeBerry’s frequent head-butting over jail over time, may have been “competing” at first.

DeBerry had been the driving force behind the ACC contract, and Salazar told reporters on Tuesday that he felt at the time Neely was being brought on as “a hired gun.”

“And so I saw fit to hire my own consultant and to protect our interests and make sure that we were keeping honest people honest. As it turned out, both consultant’s reports were really pretty much in line,” Salazar said.

The sheriff told commissioners,” Much of what (Neely’s) saying is music to my ears,” and appeared open to the recommendations.

The Detain, Inc. study had recommended considering entry-level wage increases of 15% to 20%, though its salary comparison figures appeared to be using outdated BCSO pay scales.

Commissioners approved a new contract in February with the Deputy Sheriff’s Association that raises pay by at least 15% through 2025.

It also recommended using 12-hour shifts to help cut down the number of staff needed to operate posts. Salazar spoke to reporters on Tuesday of using a “hybrid system where we give them some flexibility.”

“‘If you want a 12-hour shift, work in this part of the jail. If you want an eight-hour shift, work in this part of the jail,’” he expanded. “I think that things like that will go to improve morale. You know, it will then help us with retention, and then our overtime problem should go away at that point.”

Salazar said BCSO is in talks with Detain, Inc. about a second study dealing with the 12-hour shift idea.

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About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.