Red River County Sheriff Jim Caldwell is concerned – concerned for his department and concerned for the county as the department’s future is uncertain due to his office being understaffed and underpaid.
“For four years I’ve fought for pay raises and nothing has happened. It’s time to do something; either fold it up or pay the people something that will keep them here,” said Caldwell.
Caldwell, along with dozens of supporters, packed the room during Commissioners Court on Monday morning with the hopes of getting a pay raise for not only deputies but dispatchers and jailers also.
Currently down four deputies and several dispatchers/jailers, Caldwell says the situation is “critical.”
“I see one or two more quitting right off the bat,” said Sheriff Caldwell when asked what would happen if commissioners don’t approve the raise. “As far as the jail, I can see them in bad shape.”
Red River County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Samantha Sellers has taken the lead on the campaign, pleading on behave of her fellow brothers and sisters in blue for county commissioners to consider a raise, however, they say there isn’t the funds.
“I would not sit here and try to go up ten cents on taxes for something like that,” Red River County Judge LD Williamson said during commissioners court on May 24. “We will work within what we’ve got to try and get you what we can, but we’ll not be able to give everybody at the sheriff’s department a $2 an hour raise.”
Deputies with the Red River County Sheriff’s Office make less than $14.00 an hour (excluding insurance and certificate pay) while dispatchers and jailers are paid even less.
“My blood, sweat and tears have been put into this community, and I do it for a little more than $13 an hour,” one officer wrote in a letter read by Sellers on May 24. “We know each time we pin our star on our chest we may not make it back to see our families. But we pin it on anyway and we do it proudly … We pin our stars on for $13 an hour because we care so much about you. So, how can you care so little about us?”
For comparison, starting pay for a Paris Police Officer is $41,349 per year, or about $21.50 an hour in a 40-hour workweek – about $8 more than Red River County deputies.
During commissioners court on June 14, a proposal for a raise for deputies was discussed, however Sellers asked the subject be tabled and an open discussion had to explore the possibilities of getting raise for all first responders.
“It goes without saying, we need to be paid more,” Deputy Caleb Sleeper said. “But so do they. The jailers, and the dispatchers, they matter too, if not more.”
The sheriff’s office is a “family” and many deputies have voiced their opinion that it is unfair dispatchers and jailers would go without.
“Having experienced officers here even takes a lot of the liability off the county,” Chief Deputy Michael Pace said. “I can’t remember how many people that has come and went over the years chasing money and the commissioners have done stuff for us and they have tried but like the Sheriff said during commissioners court, this is stuff that should have been started way back when. A small step ain’t gonna cut it. It’s going to have to be a large step because if you can’t contain how are you going to be able to draw someone new here.”
Pace went on to say that with every agency currently hiring and the “pool has been picked clean,” and emphasized that without a pay raise for not only the deputies but dispatchers and jailers, it makes it harder to get staff.
“This is my home. This is my community. These are my friends. This is where my family is. I want keep my experience here and I don’t know why they haven’t been doing something over the years in order to keep everyone else here,” said Chief Deputy Michael Pace.
Several Red River County residents raised the topic of the American Rescue Plan Act during the public forum, in which online records show Red River County was allocated $2.3 million, however Judge Williamson said they are not going to touch the money until they know exactly how they can spend it.
In response, Sellers again requested the subject be tabled and discussed at a later date in which commissioners agreed to table and discuss during their budget workshop at a date to be determined.
“We’re not asking for big city raises, we know the county can’t afford big city raises, we’re not asking for raises to draw people here which would be nice, all we want is enough money to keep what we’ve got now because we’ve lost three employees in the last month. We’ve got to get the pay a little higher to keep these good employees,” said Caldwell.