I enjoyed reading your June 19 articles on the Sheriff’s and Assessor’s budget hearings. The numbers and claims by the Sheriff caught my attention. So, I did a little fact checking and some basic math and found the following information. Being a deputy can be dangerous and it is important that the department has the resources it needs to operate efficiently. However, the numbers suggest that the turnover problem at the Sheriff’s Office is not low pay or being overworked.
It took me less than five minutes on the Internet to debunk the idea that La Paz County Sheriff’s Deputies are underpaid. The minimum starting pay for a La Paz County Deputy is $43,464 per year. Graham County is currently advertising to hire deputies at $43,602. Cochise County has openings starting at $41,000. Yuma County starts at $48,235. Entry level at the Mohave County Sheriff starts at $40,539. The La Paz County starting salary is in the middle of the market and competitive with other rural sheriff departments in Arizona.
The mean household income in La Paz County is only $36,479. At $43,464, an entry level deputy in La Paz County makes a minimum of 119 percent of the average household income, placing them automatically in the top half of our local economy. This assumes that the deputy is the only wage earner in the household. A working spouse or partner puts them even further into the upper middle class. Not bad for an entry level job that requires a GED and no prior experience.
I believe the Sheriff’s claim that deputies are leaving the department. I also believe that every deputy that resigns gets a job at another department that pays more. After all, they now have experience and $30,000 in academy training that the new department doesn’t have to pay for. Deputies are not just quitting. They are moving out of the county.
Lt. Epps threw out some big numbers when talking about the amount of work the officers do. He said they responded to 37,960 calls. This sounds like a lot of work. Well, it works out to an average of 104 calls per day, or four calls per hour. During the budget crisis two years ago, the Sheriff complained that he only had enough deputies for three or four to be on duty at a time. On average, this would mean each deputy has about one or two calls per hour when they are on duty. It doesn’t sound like an excessive work load.
Our crime rate is low and staying that way. In 2018, there were only 325 felony cases filed in the La Paz County Superior Court. There have been 157 felony cases filed so far in 2019. Lt. Epps stated the department issued 4,500 citations. For 37,960 calls, there were a total of 4,825 misdemeanor citations and felony charges. So, only 12.7 percent of the time were deputies acting as law enforcement. What is happening the only 87 percent of the time? Do we really need certified deputies to respond to situations that are not criminal, or is there a better way to handle this?
Ken MacFarland, Ph.D