Every week, I read the Law Enforcement Data System (LEDS) weekly job opening list for law enforcement jobs throughout the state. When reading the list last week, I saw the Grant County Sheriff's Office was hiring for a patrol deputy. Out of curiosity, I went to the employment department's Web site to look at the job description and salary.
When I saw the hourly salary of $11.95, only two words can describe my reaction: "shock" and "disbelief." I would be naive to believe police officers in Grant County or even Eastern Oregon as whole make as much as those in the Portland metropolitan area; however, the difference is both unbelievable and unacceptable. I can only assume (and hope) this is the bottom salary.
I work in an agency of 13 sworn, serving a population of about 10,000 citizens, patrolling an area of about 2.5 square miles. By looking at the Grant County Chamber of Commerce Web site and 2003 U.S. Census Bureau statistics, I see a Grant County deputy is responsible for an area of 4,528 square miles, serving 7,454 citizens. I bring up my salary not to boast, but to make a point: At the present time, my base pay before any overtime is $24/hour. This is the lower end of salaries in my area. My duties are no different than any officer or deputy in Grant County. I patrol streets and neighborhoods, conduct investigations, and make arrests, just to name a few.
In over three years at my current department, no one in my department has fired a shot from their service weapon, nor have any of us been shot at. I can quickly think of three times in recent memory where this has happened in Grant County. The tragedy involving Jason Rehling is the first that comes to mind.- The second is when OSP Detective Mike Durr was shot and former Deputy Ken Filbert's vehicle was riddled with bullets when pursuing a suspect of a double homicide. Last, but certainly not least, was when Deputy Todd McKinley and an OSP trooper were shot at by a subject in the Dayville/Kimberly area.
The volume of calls my department takes as opposed to agencies in Grant County is considerably more. By sheer population and being in a metropolitan area, the odds are we are more likely to experience a serious event such as a homicide or an officer involved shooting. These factors, among others (cost of living), should not be enough to justify such a tremendous gap in earnings. I may be more likely to be involved in a serious event, but I also have other officers available to me at the drop of a hat. Grant County? An officer is probably lucky to have cover within an hour of his location.
I understand Grant County does not have a lot of money to go around to all the services demanded of a governing body, but something needs to be done. For future recruitments and the retention of current employees, a wage increase is necessary, and very much deserved. If anything, this current wage demonstrates officers and deputies of Grant County are not in this profession for the money.
The next time you see a deputy or officer, thank them for the job they do for a bargain-basement price. Next, call your city council or county commissioners and express your support for a wage increase. It's the least you could do for a person who faces more danger (in some aspects) than that of a Portland area officer.