Tuscola County Sheriff Glen Skrent said the number of applicants for law-enforcement jobs is plummeting nationwide, but he hopes to attract new road-patrol deputies by paying the $5,500 cost of their police academy training if they work in the county.
Skrent sought approval for his plan Thursday from the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners, who advised him to ask a union representing deputies to approve such a proposal first.
“Are there union issues with this?” Commissioner Matthew Bierlein, 5th District, asked Skrent after hearing the sheriff’s idea.
“I mean, technically, this ($5,500) is more pay for someone — as long as they stay,” Bierlein said.
Some police agencies try to attract new officers by agreeing to pay the full cost of an officer’s police academy training, Skrent said.
The problem, Skrent explained, is “there’s no guarantee that if they pass the academy, that they would stay at that agency, so that agency loses all that money.”
But the sheriff’s idea is to have the county pay for one-third of the cost of police academy training after a new deputy worked for Tuscola County for one year, then pay another third of the cost after the deputy completed a second year in the county. After a deputy worked three years in the county, the final third of the academy cost would be covered by the county.
“That way they would stay with our agency instead of just getting an academy certificate and then going elsewhere,” Skrent said.
Bierlein said he likes the idea, if the union representing deputies agrees to it.
“I think it’s a good policy that works really well with the private sector, but I think I’d want to make sure that we’re not going to get a grievance from the guy that finished (academy training) last year and isn’t getting ($5,500),” Bierlein said.
Skrent replied that “I guess if that is a concern I can probably get a letter of understanding from (the union), if you’d want that.” Skrent agreed to seek such a letter. Commissioner Craig Kirkpatrick, 4th District, commended Skrent’s creativity.
Bierlein noted that using financial bonuses to attract new employees is “a pretty popular thing to do in the medical field, with nurses and physical therapists.”
“Right, they have sign-on bonuses and things like that,” Skrent said. “I mean, I don’t know what else I can do to lure people to the Thumb, because I’ve had (the Delta College Police Academy director) approach the cadets and say ‘Hey, Tuscola County has an opening’ but there’s a slew of other agencies trying to get them on their board.”
Skrent said Tuscola County has an opening for a road-patrol deputy, but told commissioners “There’s about a 90 percent decrease in applicants in the law enforcement field across the country.”
Officers entering the field don’t stay with one agency the way they did in the past, the sheriff said.
“They move around,” Skrent said. “We don’t have pensions anymore where they have to stay 10 years, so we have defined contribution like a 401(k), so there’s no incentive to stay anywhere. They just keep moving.”
Skrent said he doesn’t know if he needs approval of county commissioners to use money to pay for police academy costs of new road deputies, as a countywide millage provides funds for road patrol. He agreed to request a letter of understanding from the appropriate union, though.
“I don’t know whether it is something that would have to be negotiated — I don’t think so, because it would be — it’s going to be a temporary thing,” Skrent told commissioners. “I don’t want this to be a permanent thing — if the economy picks up and the number of applicants does, we don’t need to do that.”
When hiring road-patrol deputies, Skrent said the sheriff’s department doesn’t “promote from within.”
“I’m not going to take a corrections officer and send him to the academy,” Skrent said. “Corrections is a profession right now and I don’t want (corrections officers) to think that it’s a stepping stone to the road because that just doesn’t work anymore.”
The offer to pay for road deputies’ police academy costs “would only be for new people coming in, so my thoughts are ‘No, it’s not a contract thing,’” Skrent said.
Tom Gilchrist is a reporter for The Advertiser and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org