SWEETWATER COUNTY—The Sweetwater County Commissioners tabled the request made by Sweetwater County Sheriff Mike Lowell for four new security positions for the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office at the commissioners meeting Tuesday, October 17.
Justice Center Court Complex
The Justice Center Court Complex is in the process of being built, and although it has no finishing date yet, it is expected to be open around the beginning of March 2018.
The justice center will have two circuit courts and the judges will schedule trials to be on different days. While one courtroom is being used for trials, the other will be conducting arraignments, first appearances, pretrial conferences, etc., so both courts will be open daily.
Each courtroom needs a security officer while the courts are open.
EDA Recommends Four Officers
EDA Architects were contracted to designthe justice center, and after conducting some studies, the EDA put together a report titled “job creation.” In this report, the EDA recommends the new justice center be staffed with three security officers and one security supervisor.
Sheriff Lowell learned the number of officers recommended by the EDA is the minimum number that is recommended by the US Marshals Service as well.
Sheriff Lowell submitted a request for the authorization of two new court security officers and two new control room workers. He also requested two new detention officers, as the positions were eliminated because of the voluntary buyout.
Request for Two Court Security Officers
Currently, the Rock Springs Circuit Court is operating with two security officers, and when the new facility opens, these officers will be relocated to the justice center. This leaves two more security officer positions unfilled.
The courts are not currently able to schedule cases at the capacity they would like to because of the lack of security officers. A supervisor currently fills in where needed, but Lowell will no longer have the capability to maneuver the supervisor if the courts pick up more cases.
Request for Two Control Room Officers
Currently, Central Control is monitored by one person, in which they monitor an area of 59,000 square feet. The new justice center will be 1,000,000 square feet. Sheriff Lowell requested two additional officers be staffed to take on control room responsibilities.
Some of the responsibilities include:
- Monitoring up to 153 cameras throughout the entire facility
- Acting as the communication hub point for detention transportation and court security
- Acting as the center point for deliveries, employee entrances, and parking areas, which include five entrance point gates and one exit point gate
- Monitor underground walking areas, prisoner holding areas, and circuit courts
- Monitor the flow of prisoner traffic
The responsibilities and workload has doubled because more area is being covered.
Long Hiring Process
Sheriff Lowell said he does not want to hire anyone until the facility opens, but would like to have the authorization to be able to search for experienced officers now and begin the hiring process.
According to Lowell, it could take anywhere from two to six months to hire someone, train them, and get them working, as they have to go through the academy and then get acquainted with the new facility.
Though the commissioners understood Sheriff Lowell’s request, they stressed the budgetary constraints they have. The proposed cost for the six new employees, including the detention center positions, for one year is $480,482.00.
“I understand your point,” Commissioner John Kolb said, “but that’s a lot of money.”
Kolb said they need to find a compromise that would give Sheriff Lowell what he wants, but within the budget.
Sheriff Lowell said he will do what he has to in order to fit the budget, and he will make things work with whatever personnel he is approved for.
Issues of Overtime
Commissioner Reid West said it is sometimes cheaper to pay overtime, but then there is the issue of burnout. Commissioner Wally Johnson asked Sheriff Lowell what the bare minimum of people needed at the justice center is.
“I operate at bare minimums now,” Sheriff Lowell said.
According to Sheriff Lowell, the proposals for additional employees are bare minimum. He said if he had “fluff” in his staff, he would have more flexibility and wouldn’t need to hire more officers.
Injuries and Other Leave Time
Human Resources Director Garry McLean and Sheriff Lowell explained to the commissioners that there is always an issue of injuries, sick leave, vacation time, and maternity and paternity leave. It is unpredictable how many people will be out of work on leave.
McLean said the issue comes down to how much risk they want to take with their staff. Sheriff Lowell said it is not unusual to have nine or ten people out on worker’s comp because of injuries and surgeries.
McLean and Lowell said when there are fewer employees, it opens them up to more liabilities.
Request for Security Officers Tabled
Commissioner Johnson said he was not comfortable with approving Sheriff Lowell’s request until they knew the exact date the justice center will be open.
Johnson said he would like Sheriff Lowell and McLean to get together to decide what number of employees they need and by what time, and then come back in front of the commission with those specificities.
Commissioner Don Van Matre agreed with Johnson in that they need to decide exactly how many officers are needed by a specific date.
“I have no doubt in my mind you understand what you need to get things done,” Van Matre said. However, he said there is only so much money the county has.
The commissioners unanimously approved the motion to table the request until Sheriff Lowell and McLean discuss the positions that are needed.
Request for Two Detention Center Officers Approved
The voluntary buyout left Sherriff Lowell with two vacant positions in the detention center. When he was making cuts for the budget, he left these two positions out.
This request to fill these positions was approved unanimously by the commissioners.