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An open letter from our sheriff - Staffing shortages reaching crisis level

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Polk County SheriffBy Byron Lyons
Polk County Sheriff

I am deeply honored to serve as your sheriff of Polk County. I take great pride in representing each of you, including those doing business here and passing through Polk County. 

I come to you with an issue that should cause great concern in each of you as it affects my department’s ability to provide adequate public safety.

The beginning of my term was met with unprecedented obstacles. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office, like so many others, was forced to modify the way duties were performed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The historic pandemic created a bottleneck effect throughout all levels of the criminal justice system.

Now, I am facing another emergency—one that greatly affects my ability to provide adequate law enforcement coverage for the county. My greatest resource is the men and women wearing the uniforms of my patrol and detention divisions. As of April 20, I have eight vacant positions on the law enforcement side and nine vacancies in the detention division. While it is true this problem is being felt across this country, the staff shortages here have become a great concern because it affects lives here.

The staffing shortages within the sheriff’s office are reaching a crisis level. Regarding the shortages, some of the prevalent concerns are public safety, officer safety, delayed response time and officer visibility.

With 1,057 square miles to cover in Polk County, shifts are running two deputies short with one of the shifts being three deputies short. Coupled with large volumes of calls over a 24-hour period, the personnel shortages amplify the issues listed above. During the month of March alone, there were a total of 3,551 calls for service received by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. All the above are directly affected by staff shortages, including clearance rates and narcotics investigations.

Since taking office in January of 2021, I’ve lost a total of 16 deputies and 49 jailers. The majority of those were by way of resignations with a few being by way of terminations. These losses equated to more than 100-plus years of law enforcement experience—experience and training paid for by the Polk County taxpayers.

The cause of our public safety crisis can be blamed on low salaries. A first-year deputy makes $37,679 annually. Listed below are the salaries paid for first-year deputies and officers in neighboring cities and counties: Livingston Police Department, $43,660; Walker County Sheriff’s Office, $55,160; Onalaska Police Department, $39,600; Diboll Police Department, $48,500; San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Office, $43,672; Corrigan Police Department, $37,440; Liberty County Sheriff’s Office, $53,300; Tyler County Sheriff’s Office, $40,482; Angelina County Sheriff’s Office, $45,550; and Trinity County Sheriff’s Office, $35,000. The salaries listed do not represent the benefit packages.

Speaking with administrators from agencies from within Polk County and surrounding counties, I found that the Trinity County Sheriff’s Office and Corrigan Police Department were the only agencies whose starting pay was less than Polk County.

Speaking with Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy during our budget meeting we agreed there needs to be raises given throughout the county, especially with there being a nationwide inflation increase of 8%. Judge Murphy reminded me of the revenue cap placed on Texas counties by our state legislators from 8% to 3.5%. I was informed this 3.5% cap handicaps counties in their attempts to maintain raises for their employees. Therefore, I come before the citizens of Polk County to say I need your help to better protect your communities. I look forward to working with the communities of Polk County about ideas and solutions.

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