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'Staffing is a major concern' | Triad law enforcement gives an inside look into recruitment and retention

Triad law enforcement agencies said the struggle with recruitment and retention is a reality they deal with every day, but they're working to fill open positions.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — It's a job where pay is low and risk is high. 

It's just two of several contributing challenges to recruitment and retention in law enforcement, and it's felt right here in the Triad. 

"Not going to lie I was kind of scared," said Patrol Deputy Cozy Jackson with the Forsyth County Sheriff's Office. 

Jackson said it was a profession he wanted to get into since elementary school.

"When they would come and pass out stickers I would always look at those guys as heroes," he said. 

Patrol deputy JC King said he comes from a family of law enforcement officers, so he understands the reality of the job. 

"The best you can hope for is just to come home safe to your family," King said.

Despite the risk, men and women across the country suit up day after day, putting their lives on the line. 

Their passion for the job outweighs all else.

"That says a lot for a man or woman to get up every day knowing that this could be my last day," said Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr. 

Finding an overwhelming number of applicants willing to make that sacrifice is not easy. At the Greensboro Police Department, Chief Brian James said staffing is a major concern. 

On average, the 500 to 700 applications the department receives for each academy twice a year, less than 5 percent of those applicants are hired. 

Lieutenant Ryan Todd explains why.

"It's a myriad of factors. One, qualifications in the state. They have pretty high standards. Greensboro's are even higher. So once you get into the process you gotta remember at some point you're competing with the other guys and girls who are fighting for that job," he said. 

Some of the minimum qualifications on both a state and local level include passing a physical and psychological exam, drug test, and polygraph test.

Greensboro Police said their background check is far more extensive than most agencies and requires officers to pass three psychological exams.

Competing with other agencies and industries is also a challenge.

"When you attract highly qualified people to the job it doesn't take long for them to move on to another career when other agencies or outside employers are interested in picking them up," he said. 

To help keep recruits coming, Greensboro Police said they increased pay for officers with 15 or more years of experience to $56,000

Recently, the department also received a pay raise, and there’s a push from upper command staff for a take-home-car program, which police say will help keep people on board.

The recruitment and retention issues also present a problem over in Forsyth County. 

Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr. said the gap between finding officers for the detention center compared to patrol remains wide.

"As it related to recruitment, we probably got a waiting list, we're trying to get them through on the sworn side. Now on the detention side, that's another story," he said. 

At the beginning of November, the Forsyth County Sheriff's office had nine open sworn officer positions and 55 open detention officer positions. Those detention officer openings make up for more than half of the total open positions throughout the entire sheriff's office.

Sheriff Kimbrough said traditionally, this is nothing new to the detention center.

"That's a difficult environment to work in. You're working with a plethora of issues, you're working with a range of things that are happening. Not only does it take a  special kind of person to work there, that wears on you after a period of time. You walk in there and you're locked in there," said Kimbrough. 

Jackson started his career at the detention center but has since moved to patrol. He still picks up shifts when that side of the office needs help.

"It’s one of those things where it’s like don't burn bridges don't forget where you come from. If it wasn't for them I probably wouldn't be out on the streets right now," he said. 

While the job law enforcement officers do has been met with criticism from the public, deputy King invites the public to be part of helping to change that.  

"They can join the sheriff's office and try and make that difference themselves. Sitting back and saying what should have happened is a really easy job to do. Until you're in these boots and dealing with the situation right in front of you you can't really tell what you're going to do next so join up with us, we'd be really happy to have you," he said. 

Starting in December, recruits with the Greensboro Police department will start at a $41,500 salary.

In Forsyth County, detention officers start at $39,000 and deputies at $40,000.

"If I had a magic wand and I could just, abracadabra here we go, I would love to be able to increase the salaries of men and women that work in the detention side," Kimbrough said.