A deputy shortage at the Wasco County Sheriff’s Office has been so deep that even with three new deputies hired, the department is still down three positions.
But with recent interviews of new candidates, hopes are to reach full staffing within a year, said Sheriff Lane Magill.
The department is budgeted for 17 positions, but has 14 as of now. In addition to the three new hires, it includes seven road deputies, two investigators, the chief deputy and sheriff.
The department has had fewer deputies in the past, “but it was years and years ago,” Magill said.
Two of the three recent hires are women, and the department hasn’t had a female deputy in 15 years.
It’s ideal to hire someone who is already in law enforcement, which is called a lateral hire. They don’t need to go to police academy and can be on their own fairly quickly, once they familiarize themselves with the county. “In 30-60 days I’ve got a lateral up and running on their own,” Magill said.
Magill said it can take up to a year from the moment a person is hired until the moment they can be completely independent and operating on their own.
The department has seen a significant staff turnover in the last 18-24 months.
About two years ago, the first of four sergeants resigned or retired from the sheriff’s office. One left for the Seattle Police Department, one went into the private sector, another went to the Oregon State Police and a fourth retired.
During that period, a chief deputy also retired and another deputy went to the OSP, for a total of six positions vacated.
The sergeant vacancies have not yet been filled but the department is working on revamping the pay structure because of a disparity between the top pay for a deputy and the beginning pay for a sergeant.
Moving to sergeant “really wasn’t a loss, but it wasn’t a gain either,” Magill explained.
The county’s human resources department will present a proposed pay and benefit structure to the county commission in September, Magill said.
Right now, the department has one sergeant, the detective sergeant, “so he’s working the road and doing detective work as well, but we’re getting through it,” Magill said. “We’ve got a really good crew.”
Magill also lauded The Dalles Police Chief Patrick Ashmore and Oregon State Police Lt. Les Kipper, saying they “have been great, amazing partners to work with. They have helped us cover calls when we can’t cover those calls, or they’ll cover the call and wait for us to get there so we can finish the call. I couldn’t be where I’m at now without their commitment to help us out. And quite frankly, I couldn’t be there without the commitment of our deputies. Long days, short nights and lots of overtime.”
The hiring and training process in law enforcement is long, from the interviews to background checks, which can take several months, to physical and psychological testing, and then, finally, the lengthy training once someone is hired.
As soon as Magill makes a hire, that very day, he calls the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training and applies for them to be in the next academy class.
The classes are held frequently throughout the year and, if possible, Magill likes to pick a class that allows a new hire to ride along with another deputy for a month or two before going to
“That gets them to start thinking about law enforcement, public safety and what it means to be a police officer,” Magill said. “Then, when they get to academy, they have a good working knowledge of what law enforcement looks like.”
Magill doesn’t have the manpower to train large numbers of deputies at once, since it requires pairing new hires with a training officer, so that forces the hiring to be stretched out accordingly.
As for the three newest hires for the department, Tyler Williams, from the Willamette Valley, finished the 20-week academy on Aug. 9 and Katelyn Bailey, who was previously a dispatcher for the county, and Kirstin Leroue, of Goldendale, will finish academy on Sept. 6.
Magill is excited to have female deputies back in the department. “That’s going to be a real bonus for the sheriff’s department,” he said.
Female deputies can build better connections with female victims sometimes, he said. “Kids love them. They bring another communication skill that men don’t necessarily bring. Not that guys’ skill sets are bad. Women can de-escalate situations.”
The department interviewed four more applicants recently, and there is a potential for two hires, Magill said.
The department may also be seeking a south county resident deputy position, which hasn’t existed since 2009. “We’re working with an internal committee to statistically and financially justify the position for the sheriff’s office,” Magill said.
If it is approved, he will have to evaluate the timing for getting that position filled.