Pima County Sheriff’s Department hoping for fast wage increases for employees

Department takes concerns to county’s Board of Supervisors in hopes of addressing staffing shortages
Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 12:56 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - More shortages among southern Arizona law enforcement has led to a call to action.

The Pima County Sheriff’s Department is the latest to express concern and it has taken those concerns to the county’s Board of Supervisors.

The PCSD is asking for a wage increase to alleviate problems it is facing due to staffing shortages.

Sheriff Chris Nanos said he is hoping not to have to make cuts and to do that, his department needs to be competitive.

“The number one priority is -- you call and we’re going to come,” he said. “Tucson Police found themselves in a horrific position that I never want to find myself in and that is telling you, the community, ‘I can’t come to your call.’”

He is referring to TPD citing staffing shortages as the reason for changing which calls officers respond to.

Nanos said it may be the reality for county residents if the PCSD doesn’t see pay raises soon.

That’s the topic of a letter sent to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday, July 21, and the PCSD is hoping for swift action.

In it, the wage committee asked for a starting pay rate “competitive or higher than TPD or PCCPD” for many positions.

Matt Heinz, one of the county’s five supervisors, said that is doable.

“I think that’s absolutely appropriate to have all these law enforcement employees paid at about the same level. It shouldn’t be many thousands of dollars more or less,” Heinz said.

Before approving the increases, the board said it wants to conduct a year-long assessment to determine the need and consider how it would impact the budget.

But Nanos said a year is too long.

“We’re going to find ourselves in a real deficit here if we wait a year for some study that tells us what we already know -- we’re not competitive enough with our neighbors,” Nanos said.

He said programs vital to the area like community policing could be on the chopping block if the pay isn’t raised soon. Nanos also said it’s difficult to get new hires.

Despite tireless efforts, the department is down 120 positions right now.

“I think we need to make some changes and that is going to cost the county some money because there aren’t just one or two deputies, there are hundreds so we have to look at this and implement what makes sense and make sure that we have these folks paid equitably,” Heinz said.

While Nanos is hoping for the increases to happen quickly, both he and Heinz agree it is long overdue.

PCSD Letter To The Board of Supervisors

Below is a portion of the letter the Pima County Sheriff’s Department sent to the county’s Board of Supervisors:

Dear Supervisors:

Subject: Pima County Sheriff’s Department Wage Committee Recommendations

The members of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, stand united. With Sheriff Chris Nanos’s request for a competitive wage for our department, our unions and employee groups, have come together to compose and present a comprehensive wage proposal. The Pima County Sheriff’s Department Wage Committee is comprised of all labor groups within the Department, the Pima County Deputy Sheriff Association, Fraternal Order of Police, Pima County Correction Officer’s Association, Pima Corrections Association, Communications, Forensic Unit, Evidence Technicians and Support Personnel. This report may contain information you are already aware of. We present this report not just for the benefit of ourselves or our department, but for the benefit of the communities in which we live and serve. This comprehensive wage proposal will help to retain skilled employees, recruit the highest quality candidates to create generational performance and reduce the wage gap amongst Pima County employees.

Certain factors have led to the precipice of an evolving situation. We leave you to decide to either protect the citizens of Pima County or defund the Sheriff’s Department, which will ensure we will not have the staff to protect the citizens of Pima County with the professionalism they desire and are accustomed. We, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department Wage Committee, know many of you have been presented this difficult situation in your recent appointment. The employees of the Sheriff’s Department have experienced callous and neglectful decisions in the past regarding wages. Inaction on your part will cause the mistakes of the past to have dire effects on our present and future in regard to law enforcement services provided in Pima County and the safety of the community. It is clear that if our workers are not paid a fair and competitive wage for their service to the community, they will provide that service to another agency.

The experience of the City of Tucson has highlighted the negative effects of a low-staffed police department. Multiple stories of community calls for service holding for days and some never being answered, have been published. On January 20th, 2021, Chief Magnus stated Tucson Police Officers were unable to respond to numerous calls for service, citing staffing shortages as the root cause. These crimes include:

  • Contraband at schools, hospitals, and courts (except firearms)
  • Deaths at medical care facilities
  • Non-criminal homeless calls on public property
  • Loud music/loud noise calls
  • Medical check welfare
  • Uncooperative victims at hospitals
  • Non-criminal transports (medical, detox, shelter, etc.)

Later on, as his staffing numbers continued to decline, Chief Magnus stated officers were further unable to respond to the following calls for service:

  • All code enforcement
  • Trespassers inside certain abandoned properties
  • Civil matters (landlord-tenant disputes, child custody issues)
  • Runaways
  • Mental health check welfares
  • Suicidal subjects
  • Panhandling, UIP, DIP (urination/defecation in public)
  • Financial crimes

The Pima County Sheriffs Department Wage Committee is fearful Pima County citizens will suffer from the same lack of police services the citizens of Tucson have experienced. We fear, due to the dramatic increase in the City of Tucson employee compensation, we will not be able to obtain qualified and effective professionals. Furthermore, employees will continue to leave the Sheriff’s Department, in greater numbers, for other agencies which can provide fair compensation.

We should also consider the inflation rate. Per the U.S. Inflation Calculator, annual inflation for the 12 month period that ended in May of 2021 was 5.0 %; thus Pima County employees made 5% less this year compared to last year.

We ask the Pima County Board of Supervisors to ensure we will have a diverse, educated, and accomplished workforce. The most effective way to do this is to provide a competitive compensation plan for our existing and future workers.

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