While the Kewaunee County Board moves ahead with the planning for the potential Kewaunee County jail project, Sheriff Matt Joski is also worried about how they are going to staff it.
Law enforcement is a lot like other industries coming out of the pandemic when it comes to staffing. According to a Police Executive Research Forum survey, there has been a steady staffing decrease in recent years. Resignations and retirements have outpaced the number of officers and deputies being brought on board during a time when the number of qualified applicants is also down. It is not good timing for the Kewaunee County Sheriff’s Department, which has been able to nail down some efficiencies but will still have to hire some new people to staff the jail whenever it gets built. Joski says it is a challenge that everyone is facing, but one they will have to figure out.
Like other places of employment in the public and private sectors, Joski says the department is hiring so it can operate its current facilities in a safe manner. You can read more on this topic below.
FROM SHERIFF MATT JOSKI
It has been a few articles since I have provided an update on our jail project. Most are aware that in late July, the County Board was to vote on the acceptance of the plan as well as the financing for the project. While the acceptance of the plan was approved, the financing did not get approved as the bids for the project were substantially above what was estimated. So, what has transpired since that vote?
In early August, there was communication with a firm based in Iowa that had experience in building similar Jail facilities as what we are pursuing. In an effort to better understand this new approach, Myself along with members of my staff and members of the County Board did travel to a facility in Iowa to see for ourselves what opportunities this approach would provide.
While there were many differences to their communities as well as varying operational realities, there was great value in gaining a different perspective. At the recent Jail Study Committee meeting, there was consensus to move forward in a working relationship with this firm, which will now go to the full County Board for approval.
As the path related to the physical aspect of this project moves along, there is another piece which I have shared in past that requires some renewed attention. This piece is related to the operational realities. Over the past eight years of our planning, we have discussed our current staffing levels, as well as the unique aspect of utilizing our staff as Jailer/ Dispatchers. Although we would have liked to split these two very different and very demanding roles, as part of this project, it became evident very early on that we would still have some overlap so as to recognize cost savings in our new environment. Even with those overlaps, it was determined that we would need to add five new positions to our operations. This is where the concerns are starting to develop.
Nationally, we continue to see a decrease in the number of men and women who are pursuing careers in law enforcement. Here at the Kewaunee County Sheriff’s Department, we too struggle to recruit at the rate we have in the past. 30 plus applications have dwindled to 10. Testing of 15 have dwindled to 3, and interviews of 12 have dwindled to 1. Although we are fortunate to enjoy a very high retention rate, we face the same realities of resignations, and retirements that have been with us throughout history.
At our recent Public Safety Committee meeting as well as at the recent Jail Study Committee meeting, this reality was shared so as to provide an awareness to an important piece of this project. After much discussion, it was proposed that we continue to move forward cautiously, tracking our ability to sustain adequate staffing levels for this new facility. This is an important factor in moving forward as there is very little flexibility in staffing any proposed new facility.
Although our existing facility has numerous deficiencies and limitations, the one redeeming characteristic is the minimal staffing we are able to function with. Again, this is information that needs to be considered, and we will continue to do our best to recruit and retain the highest quality staff that we can, regardless of which facility we are operating.
To that point, we have just posted an employment opportunity for the Jailer/Dispatcher position. If you or someone you know would like to embark upon and a rewarding career of public service, this may be the opportunity! Please go to www.kewauneeco.org where this posting is available.
While the building piece of this project has received the bulk of attention thus far, our ability to operate that facility in a safe manner, greatly overshadows all else. The biggest piece of those operations are the men and women who have devoted themselves to this unique aspect of law enforcement. We are grateful to those currently filling those roles, and excited to welcome those who will take on this rewarding challenge in the future!