Deputies bow their heads in prayer at the Greene County Jail dedication Ceremony. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Upbeat orchestral music — like you’d hear in the score of an action movie — plays as a pair of hands secures a Velcro strap on a piece of black protective gear. Another pair of hands puts a pair of silver handcuffs into a holder on a black belt.

“Tired of your dead-end job?” a man’s voice asks. “Then join our team at the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, where you’ll find over 600 jobs in a variety of departments.”

The recruiting video goes on to show several deputies discussing why they like working for Greene County, mixed with footage of patrol deputies, SWAT officers gearing up and Sheriff Jim Arnott riding a horse. If you click on a job description and read it, you’ll see an advertised wage of $20.70 per hour for detention officers. It’s all part of an effort to recruit enough detention officers to fully staff the jail on West Division Street that opened in Springfield on May 13.

Shortly after the dedication ceremony in May, Sheriff Arnott said his office needed to hire about 65 people to staff the jail, which is built to house up to 1,240 inmates.

At a Greater Ozark Pachyderms meeting Aug. 26, some three months after the new jail opened, Capt. David Johnson briefed a room of Republican Party members on the new jail. Johnson was filling in for Arnott, who attended a funeral for former Greene County canine officer Lor on the same day.

“We are down about 60 people right now as far as staffing,” Johnson said.

Recruitment events, including open interviews advertised on Facebook, have been happening throughout the summer at the new jail. In spite of the time and effort, the sheriff’s office still has five dozen openings for detention officers.

Difficulty finding people

Capt. David Johnson (standing, right) speaks to members of the Greater Ozark Pachyderms, a Republican Party Group, at the Bambino’s restaurant on Battlefield Road in Springfield Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. (Photo by Rance Burger)

An official job description reads candidates for detention officer jobs must pass criminal background and reference checks, a drug test, physicals and psychological examinations. The new jail is on a three-building complex that houses sheriff’s offices, a training academy and a detention center at the intersection of Division Street and Haseltine Road.

“If we’re fully staffed, we have 400-and-some detention staff, so we’re down 60,” Johnson said. “We’re doing the best we can with what we have. We have made some modifications to house people, and we had to close a couple of pods just to wait for our staff numbers to come up. We are making headway, but it’s difficult.”

Johnson said the new jail has a limited inmate population of 56 inmates in a pod. At the former jail, a pod population could reach as many as 140 inmates, with one or two detention officers tasked with supervising all of them.

“It takes a lot of mental strain on our employees, so we’ve done a different supervision model; it’s an indirect and direct supervision model,” Johnson said. “We go in and we do rounds inside the pods instead of being in there, but we have people that are watching over them through control towers.”

In Greene County, detention officers typically work 12-hour shifts. According to a job description, shift change times are fixed at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. every day and night.

“We’ve limited the amount of cells in each pod, and the pods are much larger so the inmates can get away from each other,” Johnson said.

Fewer inmates in a larger space led to fewer fights occurring between inmates in the new Greene County jail, Johnson said

Not just detention officers

Captain Dave Johnson in the new Greene County Jail. (Photo by Bruce Stidham)

While the jail is a key point of focus, recruitment on Facebook and in other arenas is underway for jobs across the sheriff’s office. Arnott spoke on the matter with the Greene County Commission at a meeting in early August.

“The law enforcement side of stuff is going really well,” Arnott said. “We’re making a lot of good arrests. We’ve done some search warrants lately that have yielded some good results, and so we’re very pleased with our law enforcement side of things.”

Arnott expected to have up to nine openings for patrol deputies at the start of August. In 2022, it takes more time to prepare a deputy to start work than it used to.

“We’re going to have to make some adjustments because we can’t get people through field training quick enough to get them to fill a spot. Because it’s not like the old days where you can just throw them the keys to a car and go,” Arnott said. “The computer system takes a lot of training, and how we do things here, because we’re a faster-paced agency than a lot of our applicants come from. It’s a little bit different.”

Wages, benefits and considerations

New Greene County Jail in Springfield, Missouri
The new Greene County Jail. (Photo by Bruce Stidham)

Hiring efforts have been heavy, but Arnott said he often finds himself competing with smaller law enforcement agencies, and the race for deputies often comes down to dollars and cents.

“Just to give you an example, Vernon County, which is a much smaller county but is not that far away, is starting at $21.25, and we’re at $20.70 [per hour],” Arnott said. “Even the smaller sheriff’s offices are realizing the crunch, and they’re adjusting their pay.”

The Greene County Sheriff’s Office experienced a net gain of 44 employees in the first half of 2022. There were 98 hirings and 53 terminations in the first six months of the year, the sheriff told the county commissioners.

Arnott reported that there were 41 employee resignations and 12 instances where the sheriff’s office terminated a person’s term of employment. One sheriff’s office employee died.

“We don’t have a good solution,” Arnott said. “We are game planning trying to figure out other than money, what else can we do to make it more attractive?”

In one Facebook post, the Greene County Sheriff’s Office breaks down some of the basic benefits afforded to employees. The benefits include medical, dental and life insurance, health savings accounts, retirement plans, paid holidays, vacation and sick leave accrual rates of eight hours per month and paid military leave.

Would-be detention officer candidates are asked to prepare for tests in reading comprehension, spelling, math and ethics. A social media graphic also advises candidates to dress for the interview in suits, collared shirts and dress pants, to show good verbal communication skills and to make eye contact with interviewers.

Rance Burger

Rance Burger covers local government for the Daily Citizen. His goal is to help people know more about what projects their government is involved in, and how their tax dollars are being spent. He is a graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with 15 years experience in journalism. Reach him at rburger@sgfcitizen.org or by calling 417-837-3669. Twitter: @RanceBurger More by Rance Burger