Sheriff: Requests for new staff are ‘really needs, not wants’

Posted 2/21/20

PITTSBORO — Chatham County Sheriff Mike Roberson took his plea for additional staff — as well as better pay — directly to the Chatham County Board of Commissioners Monday.

In the heads-up …

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Sheriff: Requests for new staff are ‘really needs, not wants’

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PITTSBORO — Chatham County Sheriff Mike Roberson took his plea for additional staff — as well as better pay — directly to the Chatham County Board of Commissioners Monday.

In the heads-up budget document presented to the commissioners last month, Roberson had asked for 22 new full-time staff and two new part-time employees to cover needs in the sheriff’s office, detention center and animal services wings of the department.

“I do look forward to working with county staff through this,” Roberson said. “I want to give you the facts of where I think we are. It’s an important thing for me and I just wanted to be real with you for where we’re at.”

During his presentation, Roberson said the county has a lower officer-to-1,000 residents ratio than places like Durham and Lee counties and the Towns of Pittsboro and Siler City. And while crime is low, he said, the number of calls to the sheriff’s office has increased in recent years. In 2019, CCSO received 29,642 calls for service — approximating to 81.2 calls per day, 3.4 per hour and 1 call every 17 minutes.

“We have more calls than we can answer, and we’re stacking them on the computer screen,” Roberson said. “We go to the crimes in progress first and the crimes against people first. That’s happening a lot on day shift.”

That was one of the reasons he asked for more patrol deputies — four in this year’s budget request, and he even termed that a “Band-Aid.”

Additionally, Roberson made his case for new officers at the county detention center (and an expansion to the building because of an increasing inmate rate) as well as adding 10 new employees to the Animal Services sector of the department. He said it was necessary to have those employees if the county were to open the planned new Animal Shelter.

“I know this is probably not the politically correct thing to say, but if you can’t fund these positions, don’t fund the building,” Roberson said. “It really puts me in a worse situation than I am now. It is a very difficult thing to say because I think the building is going to be nice, but I have to have the people to come with the building to run it if we’re going to do that.”

He also argued for better pay. He said his office has “average pay” and isn’t “underpaying people,” but the rising cost of living in certain parts of Chatham and higher pay in nearby jurisdictions could lead to future turnover.

“Pay does not increase performance. If you gave us all a 10 percent raise today, it would not increase performance. But fair and equitable pay is the right thing to do,” Roberson said. “I think we’re not below average (in pay), but I feel our people perform above average.”

He said he was not expecting a response to his concerns during the presentation, but the commissioners said they understood the problem.

“I think we all agree that these services are critical,” said board Chairman Karen Howard. “It’s helpful to know what you deal with. From a lay person’s perspective, I just feel safe and I appreciate that. To understand the back working is important, and to get a better sense of positions and demand.”

The county’s budget draft will be released in May, at which time the commissioners will begin discussions on adjustments. That draft will include the recommendation for new employees for the Sheriff’s Office.

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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