Douglas County undersheriff: Retaining deputies a challenge | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Douglas County undersheriff: Retaining deputies a challenge

Kelsey Penrose
kpenrose@recordcourier.com

Deputy retention is an issue across the country, even in an area like Douglas County, which boasts a low crime rate and high morale.

"People just don't want to be cops anymore," said Undersheriff Paul Howell.

On Tuesday afternoon at the C.O.D. Casino, Howell gave a presentation to the Good Governance Group discussing the status of the Douglas County Sheriff's Office.

In attendance were the candidates for sheriff, as well as other Douglas County candidates, and community members who came with questions for Howell.

After this upcoming election, Howell will be retiring, once he finishes training his replacement.

"This type of job has a shelf life," said Howell, "and I've met mine. I've had a wonderful career."

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Howell gave an abridged version of the presentation previously shown to county commissioners.

The focus was to give community members an idea of what was going on in the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, as well as to dispel some misinterpretations the public may have.

He brought up numerous statistics of how the sheriff's office stacks up in comparison with others, both statewide as well as national.

In Douglas County, there are 123 employees with the sheriff's office, including 107 sworn officers. There are a little more than two officers per 1,000 residents in the county, which Howell claims, is enough.

"As the population is right now, we don't need any new officers," Howell said. "We have a low crime rate. Bigger cities couldn't get away with five officers per 1,000 residents, but that's not the case here."

The crime rate, Howell cited, was 18 reported crimes per 1,000 residents, with a 30-percent clearance — or crimes solved — rate. That is higher than both Nevada's average at 17 percent, or the U.S. at 23 percent.

The average call response time is 23 minutes, with 10 minutes for officers to arrive on the scene. For priority calls, such as assaults or break ins, response time can be as low as under two minutes.

Howell pointed out that the Minden Jail received an award recognizing it as the highest-rated in the nation.

The top five calls for service dispatch takes are for traffic offenses, suspicious person reports, citizen assists, alarms, and domestic disturbances.

The top three crimes in Douglas County, according to Howell, are batteries in Lake Tahoe casinos, petty larcenies at Walmart, and domestic assaults.

As the population grows, especially within high density housing, they'll need to hire more officers.

"I expect in the next three to five years, we'll need eight to 10 new deputies," Howell said. "We're all expecting another great exodus from California, and they'll be coming here, Arizona and Oregon."

A major problem with departments across the board, however, is recruitment.

Citing reasons such as low pay and long commutes, many departments in the U.S. are losing deputies, not only to other departments that may be closer to their homes or have a higher pay rate, but to other jobs altogether. Two of the officers Douglas County lost went to flip houses and flip used cars, but the majority have left due to retirement.

Howell said this has its own issues within law enforcement.

"Sixty percent of Las Vegas deputies have been on the job three years or less," said Howell. "It's a scary thought. It takes a while to become seasoned in this profession."

One thing Howell would like to see improvement on with the next sheriff is offering incentives to retain officers, such as asking the Board of Commissioners to give deputies take home patrol vehicles.

"The largest hinge on recruitment is the ability to buy a house in Douglas County," Howell said. "It's just too expensive. One deputy wanted to move down here from Sparks, but the housing market is so much more expensive here. But younger people have to realize, they're not going to be able to buy a house on a starting salary. They'll have to wait and save."

Despite these issues, Howell said there is no lack of morale in the department.

"It takes a special kind of person to be an officer," he said. "We pride ourselves on how we serve the public. Big cities can't send officers when you call to say you've been robbed. But if someone in Douglas County calls to say someone came into their yard and cut their garden hose, if they want to make a report, we'll send someone out. We don't want that to change here."