Clarke County Sheriff’s Office has big problems at the jail

The Clarke County Sheriff’s Office is suffering from terrible morale and ineffective leadership, particularly at the jail. That’s according to an audit released to the mayor and commission in April.

So, what’s going on at the jail??

The Sheriff’s Office is making headway on solving some of these issues. In the course of creating this video, they released a high-quality recruitment video.  👍

Transcript

The Clarke County Sheriff’s Office is suffering from terrible morale and ineffective leadership, particularly at the jail. That’s according to an audit released to the mayor and commission in April.

In this video, I’ll break down the audit and go over the problems at the jail. Then I’ll explain the recommendations the Internal Auditor made and the Sheriff’s responses. So, what’s going on at the jail?? Let’s find out.

Law enforcement in general has become less popular as a profession in recent years, and that’s caused problems in recruiting for agencies around the country. But Athens seems like a special case. The ACC Sheriff’s Office has been unable to fill a number of vacancies, for years. This audit examined the years 2014 to 2018, and in that time, the Sheriff’s office has only been 88% staffed on average. It’s even worse at the jail, with employees from the field division (who staff the courthouse and serve warrants) having to do overtime taking shifts to cover at the jail.

In fact, everyone’s had to do overtime at the jail. Mandatory overtime. For years. One employee actually worked 28 days straight.

So, why can’t the Sheriff’s Office fill these vacancies?

I’m not sure how to say it except that it seems the jail has been very badly run for a very long time. The hiring process inexplicably takes 5-6 months to complete.

5 ½ months to get somebody on board.

Correct.

And then Keep them.

Correct. And I did some checking, and on average, these departments are taking – the same amount of people doing the recruiting, the same amount of people doing the background checks – are taking 6-8 weeks.

Holy!

There are physical and mental evaluations to run, sure, but in other agencies this only takes about 6-8 weeks. Even worse, because staffing is such an emergency, most employees are not given much training either – only three to five days and then they’re thrown into the jail to supervise 60 or more inmates by themselves.

This has led some deputies to feel unsafe.

A weapon somehow got on the wrong side of the bars. An inmate at the Clarke County jail somehow managed to get a handgun into one of the holding cells.

The audit included a survey of these employees, and 63% of respondents said safety in the jail is a major concern for them. They have very little backup. They report often not even being able to take bathroom or lunch breaks during some shifts, because there’s no one to cover for them. This has all led to a high attrition rate, with the office seeing 17% turnover last year across all divisions.

To sum up, recruitment is inexplicably slow, dissatisfaction and turnover is high even when they’re able to find qualified employees, and it’s led to persistent staff shortages, which has made all of these other problems worse. It’s a feedback loop. To top it off, they have an extremely harsh sick leave policy – you have to show a doctor’s note or you don’t get paid – and there are reports of inconsistent discipline and accusations of favoritism and retaliation for even bringing up issues. Leadership has been accused of maintaining control of rank and file deputies through a culture of fear and intimidation.

It officially recommended that Jail Commander York be replaced. And he was just replaced in December of 2018, but that probably won’t solve the problem alone since it indicates the other command staff have also been ineffective.

The report says the Sheriff himself was unaware of these problems, and is pretty hands-off. One anonymous deputy reported as having seen him “maybe 5 times in 10 years at the jail.”

I believe he is a good man, a great politician, but he is not a good Sheriff.” says another anonymous respondent.

Things are so bad that, if these problems continue, there’s even a possibility that the federal government could take legal action and assume control over the jail.

So, with these problems looming in the background, how did the Sheriff respond to the audit?

Well, they did list some ways they’re going to try to increase recruitment. So, that’s good.

Going further, would they consider changing their shift structure to help with retention? Nope.

How about giving more than a few days training to new hires? Apparently, their training program has “degraded due to lack of oversite.” [sic] And it will take “6-12 months to digitize”. Whaaat? Why they don’t take advantage of some of the excellent training programs available to deputies at the police department? [cricket sounds]

Why don’t they provide career development opportunities for all employees? Opportunities are not based on favoritism, but on … the member’s demonstrated commitment to the Sheriff’s Office. Umm… How can employees demonstrate this commitment, how is it measured? [cricket sounds]

Employees shouldn’t fear unfair retaliation from supervisors, so let’s put a stop to that? “The Sheriff’s Office does not lead by fear and intimidation.” Uh… good… I’m glad we got that sorted! So what are the channels employees can use to report intimidation, if it happens? [cricket sounds]

How about ending the harsh sick leave policy? The policy has been effective and won’t be changed. Effective at stopping people from calling in sick?? But it hasn’t even done that.

Hopefully, the Sheriff’s Office will respond to these remaining questions soon. The commission’s audit committee is waiting until they hear back before sending the report on to the full commission for approval. So I guess this situation is not going to be resolved anytime soon.

Is this a good time to mention that the Sheriff is up for re-election in May of 2020? If he chooses to run again, he’ll have at least one challenger, Sergeant John Q Williams of ACCPD. I’m definitely excited to learn more about Sergeant Williams, myself. When it gets closer to the election, I’ll be doing interviews with candidates, so if he’d like to do an interview, I’d love to have him on sometime. Okay, I’ll see you next time, but real quick: if you know anyone looking for a job, I hear the jail is hiring. Lots of overtime pay! Think about it! [cricket sounds]

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Source Videos:
The Clarke County Sheriff’s Office Team
Gun in Jail.mov
Jail Expansion Project – Athens-Clarke County SPLOST 2011 Project #1

Footage from the May 1, 2019 meeting of the Commission’s Audit committee filmed by APN.

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