Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond said Monday the county is having difficulty hiring School Resource Officers amid what he calls negative public perception of law enforcement. He said overall, the Sheriff’s Office is short by about 50 staff.
“We’re living in a time when police officers are seen in a negative fashion, more so than in the past,” Sheriff Hammond said. “There are certain elements of the public who do not like law enforcement. We have a lot of young men and women who do not want to go into law enforcement because of the negativity surrounding it, so it is a task for us.”
He also cited "dangers that officers face on a daily basis" as a deterrent to getting job candidates.
Sheriff Hammond said the Sheriff’s Office is offering a $2,000 enlistment bonus for SROs and other positions. He also said he would like everyone to know that even though the sheriff’s office struggles with hiring, they are doing what they can.
“The most SROs we’ve had in the school system was around 30, and that’s county-wide in a county with 79 schools. In talking to my men this morning, I think we’re up to about nine that we’ve returned to the county schools, and we’re giving priority to schools we believe need them the most.”
Fourteen SROs still remain at Silverdale jail. The sheriff’s office earlier took SROs and shifted them over to helping oversee the Silverdale facility, which was recently given over to the HCSO from the private CoreCivic firm. This left a shortage of SROs in the school system.
Sheriff Hammond said several of the local municipalities have had their officers work in the school, but he said these municipalities have also been affected by COVID. He said these municipalities have pulled their officers out, and have chosen to not return their SROs. Sheriff Hammond said staffing Silverdale is the main priority.
“We need to staff Silverdale with enough people to protect the prisoners from each other and the public, and the public from the prisoners,” Sheriff Hammond said.
The sheriff said his staff has interviewed around 300 candidates over the last few months, but he said only about 10 percent of them met the requirements needed to be hired.
“The biggest thing is we find people will have drug or felony convictions, some of them cannot meet the basic requirements you have to meet in law enforcement,” the sheriff said, stating that whether or not someone is qualified to handle a gun is something the state places great importance on.
“Even though we have really struggled to fill these positions, we feel like we are moving in the right direction,” Sheriff Hammond said. “But it does affect me being able to allocate all the needed resources required to protect the public.”
Sheriff Hammond said he was caught off-guard when the school board and superintendent decided to go back to in-person learning, even though the sheriff was in favor of it. He said the timing of this decision put more strain on the Sheriff’s Office as they were simultaneously trying to fill positions.
Officials said, "The HCSO enthusiastically welcomes anyone who is interested in working for our agency to visit our website at www.hcsheriff.gov or call our Human Resources Division at 423-209-7000 to find out more information regarding employment opportunities."