DURHAM, NC — Nearly a third of detention officer positions at Durham County Detention Center are vacant, and Sheriff Clarence Birkhead hopes an expansion of their training program at Durham Technical Community College can help fill these gaps by the end of the year. .
According to data from the County Durham Sheriff’s Office, 73 of their 224 detention officer positions are vacant and 21 of the department’s 221 deputy positions are also open.
Sheriff Birkhead has previously said that labor shortages and low wages are two reasons for the shortage of detention officers, but he also said it was hard work.
“You have to dedicate yourself to caring for those less fortunate, those who have broken the law, and those who suffer from mental health issues,” Birkhead said.
But he said the Durham County Sheriff’s Office is partnering with Durham Technical Community College to expand its training program for deputies and detention officers.
Through this partnership, Durham Tech is allowing the Sheriff’s Office to use the Northern Durham Center space on Snow Hill Road for training.
“Here we have so much more classroom space and so much more training space,” Birkhead said.
Birkhead said this allows them to hold Basic Law Enforcement Training Academies (BLET) and Basic Detention Officer Training Academies (BDOT) simultaneously.
“Right now we are experiencing a severe shortage and it is critical for us to be able to train as many cadets as possible,” Birkhead said.
Birkhead said they can train 10 to 20 cadets at a time and they will be able to hold more 6-week training academies throughout the year for detention officers.
“Our goal is to try to fill those vacancies over the course of this year so that we can really get back to doing people’s business without taxing our current staff,” Birkhead said.
Birkhead said that currently all sworn employees of the Durham County Sheriff’s Office are required to work at least one shift per month at the jail to make up for their shortage of detention officers.
“We’re in this together,” Birkhead said. “Everyone has stepped up and is helping us fill these vacancies.”
CBS 17 asked Birkhead if expanding training for detention officers would be enough to fill the more than 70 vacancies or if a salary increase was also needed.
Birkhead told CBS 17 that the starting salary for detention officers at Durham is $40,523.
That’s higher than Sampson County ($32,892), Nash County ($34,896), Cumberland County ($37,746) and Wake County ($39,900), but not as high than Johnston County paying $42,286 to its detention officers.
Birkhead said he had asked County Durham commissioners to conduct a comprehensive salary study to see if an increase in deputies and detention officers was possible.
“We just need to make it more attractive for these people to come and work for us,” Birkhead said. “Again, it will be about salary benefits and professional development opportunities.”
He said County Durham had approved a $6,000 signing bonus for entry-level deputy sheriff, detention officer and telecom positions.
Birkhead said he also requested a bonus for current employees of the sheriff’s office.
“I want to pay tribute to these people who have been with us for years,” Birkhead said.
Nicholas Bevilacqua is currently at the DCSO’s training academy, and he moved to Durham from Rhode Island to accept a position with the Durham County Sheriff’s Office.
“It’s something I was born into, I have family that is in law enforcement, and since I was in high school too, I’ve always wanted to be a cop,” Bevilacqua said. “I saw everything they had to offer, between all the different units and that’s one of the reasons why I chose this department.”
He said he was happy to step in and try to help fill vacancies at Durham, and he hopes others will do the same.
“If you’re willing to do the things that officers do every day to put their lives on the line, it’s definitely a rewarding career,” Bevilacqua said. “We are understaffed, if you want to make a difference, do not hesitate to apply.”
County Durham is not alone in experiencing a shortage of detention officers.
CBS 17 also found that 96 of Wake County’s 357 detention officer positions are vacant, meaning they are looking to fill about a quarter of their positions.
In Cumberland County, 78 of their 189 detention officer positions are vacant, meaning 41% of their positions are open.
In Nash and Sampson counties, sheriff’s officials tell us that 21 to 22 percent of their detention officer positions are vacant.