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Berkeley County detention center in dire need of deputies

Sign text closeup for help wanted with red and white colors by entrance to store shop business building during corona virus covid 19 pandemic

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BERKELEY COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - The Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office is in desperate need for staff for the Hill-Finklea Detention Center in Monck’s Corner.

In the last three months, the department has lost 18 detention deputies. That number balloons to 29 since the beginning of the year equating to more than half of the 54-person staff.

“This is very unusual for us,” said Sheriff Duane Lewis. “Even during the pandemic, we maintained our staffing levels and didn’t have any openings for a period of time.”

In the last three months, Lewis says they’ve seen a massive drop in job applications and an apparent eagerness from employees to leave the detention center industry as a whole. In that time, they have seen just eight applications and hired five of those individuals.

“We are not getting the applicants,” Lewis said. “We will get two or three applicants and they just never show up for the interview.”

Lewis pinpoints a number of factors, including the mental and physical stress associated with working inside a jail, the COVID-related employee shortage and the general challenge in the law enforcement sector to recruit employees. Curiously, however, the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office is not having the same hiring troubles on the non-detention side of the job.

The jail was built to hold 291 inmates, but has housed up to 500 at one point and with that many inmates, a staffing shortage only means more risk to current employees.

“We are in a situation where it has become critical for us to get some people on board. We have people working overtime trying to cover the shifts and do all those things,” Lewis said.

The issue may simply boil down to money. The starting salary for detention deputies in Berkeley County is listed as $32,346.72 to $37,198.73 a year. Lewis says that’s comparable to the surrounding area, with Charleston County advertising positions at the Al Cannon Detention Center at $35,025 - $47,644 a year.

However, like with all things, the devil is in the details. Lewis says there’s one big difference when it comes to pay.

“Other agencies have a step system where after a year and then three years, you’re eligible for step raises and that continues on even after promotions,” Lewis said. “There are some incentives and pay increases for educational experience as well . . . these other agencies have those in place and we just don’t have those yet.”

The sheriff’s office is embarking on a project to study its compensation plan, which Lewis hopes will result in a more structured approach to salary increases. In the meantime, the county council as agreed to allocate $20,000 to aid in recruitment.

Lewis says they will be offering a $500 sign-on bonus for new employees and a $500 recruitment bonus for current employees who find people who will eventually be hired.

“It’s a worthwhile profession because it gives them an opportunity to work with a small group of professionals who are highly trained,” Lewis said. “We have always said here that we are like a family.”

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