Greene County Jail. (Photo by Bruce Stidham)

Five months after a new jail and sheriff’s office opened in northwest Springfield, Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott faces the same problem: staffing levels aren’t meeting capacity or demand.

The sheriff is adjusting his recruiting strategy to consider more platforms on the internet, ranging from serious job sites to more recreational social media apps. Arnott told the Greene County Commission that he is also examining the wages, benefits and working conditions that might keep people on the job once they start work in the Greene County Jail.

“I think the numbers are coming in, it’s the retention,” Arnott said.

Employee retention issues aren’t just happening in the jail. Greene County Assistant Human Resources Director Amanda Corcoran briefed the county commission Oct. 18. Anyone can go to the Greene County HR Department’s website to look at job listings, but those listings don’t tell the whole story of what’s happening in public sector employment.

“We currently have 23 job listings out on the website; that is pretty misleading, though, because the number of open positions here at the county is well over 100,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran reported openings for seven juvenile justice workers, 12 staffers in the Greene County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, 18 highway department jobs and 71 jobs in the Greene County Sheriff’s Office. Most of the sheriff’s openings are jobs in the Greene County Jail, and are detention officer jobs.

“Really, our four largest departments are where we’re hurting,” Corcoran said.

Part of a statewide trend

The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERC) jobs report for September 2022 shows a seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 2.4 percent. From August to September, 2,700 persons joined the Missouri workforce, putting the participation rate at 62.4 percent, which is higher than the national labor force participation rate of 62.3 percent.

That doesn’t mean every sector of employment saw job gains. Local governments were actually the biggest losers in employees from August to September. The MERC found employment in local government contracted by 8,700 jobs across Missouri, meaning that Greene County’s ability to tread water puts its employee retention rate above the state average.

The staffing shortage at the Greene County Jail has been estimated at around 60 officers since it opened in May.

“We dropped down to like 46 at one time, and we just can’t seem to get ahead,” Arnott said.

The sheriff has tried hiring applicants of all ages, some as young as 19. While some younger detention officers do make it through the probationary phase, Arnott said most do not.

“They are intimidated by the inmates, and that just can’t fly,” Arnott said. “We’re seeing the younger people not work out as well as the older people.”

Regardless of the age of hirees, the sheriff said it is difficult for many to make the transition into a career in corrections and detention. Sometimes applicants who are successful, applicants Arnott and his senior staff think would make good detention officers, still quit.

“It’s kind of a combination of some new people that start, and they’ll get two weeks into it and it’s not for them,” Arnott said. “We’ve had a couple of terminations, and we’ve had a couple of people not make probation.”

The sheriff said it isn’t unusual for his office to receive notices of resignations over the weekend.

“Several are leaving for better pay, and I think that’s always — that’s everybody’s issue,” Arnott said.

Want to be a detention officer?

Arnott reported the Greene County Jail had 967 inmates on the morning of Oct. 13. The new jail on West Division Street and Haseltine Road has a capacity of 1,240 inmates.

The job description and details for a detention officer position in the Greene County Sheriff’s Office list a starting wage of $20.70 per hour, which results in an annual salary of anywhere from $43,056 to $52,928, depending on the number of hours worked.

Detention officers work 12-hour shifts, with shift changes at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

Greene County also offers employer-paid health insurance and retirement funds, 208 hours of yearly leave (more than 17 shifts), 14 paid holidays, uniforms and duty gear provided by the employer and a college tuition reimbursement program that Corcoran said is being more heavily promoted with recent efforts in October.

Hirees must pass a screening for illegal drugs, undergo a physical and psychological examination and pass criminal background checks and reference checks.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis of the Springfield metropolitan statistical area, Arnott and other employers saw the labor force contract by 3,500 workers from July to August 2022. The BLS labor report shows the government workforce experienced the second-largest reduction in workers out of 10 major employment sectors over the month, dropping from about 27,900 people to 26,300 people working in federal, state and local government jobs.

Creative recruitment methods

At a Greene County Commission meeting on Oct. 18, Arnott asked for permission to enter into a sole source provider contract with Springfield-based Opfer Communications to help with internet-based recruiting for staff members. Opfer produced a video that the sheriff’s office released on Facebook to drive up recruiting, but another company has been making social media posts designed to attract job candidates.

“We utilized a company out of Arizona for one month,” Arnott said. “Basically, Facebook is all they really targeted, and we weren’t completely pleased with the outcome and so we canceled our contract after a month.”

“These things are all experimental to me,” Arnott said. “I want to see results, and if they don’t produce results, then we’ll start over. So that’s what we’re doing now with Opfer, they think they can push it out on some other platforms like LinkedIn, Tik Tok and Indeed.”

Arnott asked for the sole source provider agreement because Opfer Communications already owns footage of the Greene County Sheriff’s Office and its staff for the video it released in 2022.

“If we were to go out for bid, it would take two or three months to produce it all and start over, and by then, we’re way behind,” Arnott said.

“Makes sense to me,” Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon said.

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