Although Sheriff Javier Salazar does not celebrate the use of mandatory overtime to staff the county jail, he makes sure detention deputies are compensated well for their work, Salazar said Wednesday in response to a report by the deputies’ union.
“You show me a sweatshop where people are making $168,000 a year,” he said. “That’s more than I make. I’ve got at least one deputy that’s making that much.”
Salazar was responding to questions about sheriff deputies’ morale outlined in a report compiled and published by the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar County (DSABC), the union representing Bexar County sheriff deputies. The report, released Wednesday, interviewed 348 respondents in September and October and found that “systematic under-staffing at the BCSO has had severe ramifications on deputies’ physical and mental health as well as costly financial and public safety repercussions for taxpayers.
“Eleven years of lack of staffing has cost the county millions, and the human impact has been devastating resulting in broken lives, broken families, mental health issues, workplace injuries, burnout and exhaustion, disciplinary issues, retention, and recruitment issues,” the union said in a statement Wednesday. “For nine months, the DSABC has pleaded with Sheriff Salazar and County Commissioners to find solutions, but these pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Due to county leaders ignoring or discounting the issue’s seriousness, DSABC commissioned this independent study to focus on key job satisfaction issues within BCSO.”
The sheriff’s deputies union is in the middle of negotiating its collective bargaining agreement with Bexar County; negotiations started earlier this year. The current contract expired in September, though it remains in effect until the union and County finalize a new contract – as long as they do so before Sept. 30, 2022.
“The DSABC and their … attorneys are really, really good at presenting problems,” Salazar told reporters Wednesday. “And I’m quite tired of that, to be honest with you. If they want to start presenting solutions, though, I’m all ears.”
Salazar said Wednesday that he has been working diligently to fill vacant positions within his office. Since Jan. 1, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office has hired 213 employees, he said, but about as many workers left in the same time frame. The jail still has 144 open positions for deputies at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center, Salazar said.
And fewer staff members leads to more mandatory overtime for detention deputies, Salazar said.
“These folks aren’t working overtime because I want them to work overtime,” he said. “They’re working overtime because we have to be in compliance with jail standards. If you’ve got X number of inmates under the roof, then you got to have X number of deputies under the roof or else you’re out of compliance with the law.”
While the sheriff’s office is trying to fill empty positions, Salazar emphasized the importance of jailing fewer people in combating the need for overtime hours from deputies working at the county jail. He touted the fact that the jail population has stayed under 4,000 for “some time now.” The sheriff’s office dramatically decreased the number of those incarcerated at the jail at the beginning of 2020, but that number rose again over the course of the pandemic. As of Wednesday, the jail had more than 3,700 people incarcerated.
“Reducing the jail population and bringing in more folks, that’s the only two ways that I know of to do it,” he said. “That’s the only two ways that I know of how to [eliminate mandatory overtime]. But until such time, whether I like it or not, we’re stuck with the overtime situation.”
Salazar on Wednesday shared a new idea to reduce the jail population: turning empty jail beds into beds for a mental health facility housed within the detention center. About 400 people currently incarcerated have diagnosed mental health issues and should be treated by professionals instead of being held at the jail, he said.
“If I were to take 400 inmates out of the jail and put them in this mental health facility … they’d be much better served,” he said. “It’s going to save $24,000 in housing costs, at least, in that facility, not to mention bringing down the overtime that the deputies are expected to work.”
Salazar did not give an estimate of what the project might cost, nor did he provide what exactly the suggested mental health facility within the jail would look like. He said he wants to make it a place where people can get professional help from mental health specialists in a clinical setting.
“If we already know that a number of inmates in this facility don’t belong here, but there’s nowhere else to send them – well, it stands to reason if I build a facility to send them to, and they’re no longer inmates, I’ve just solved a whole bunch of problems just with building this facility,” he said. “It’ll probably be an expensive undertaking, but I think the good is going to outweigh the bad by a long shot.”