Arlington County Sheriff J. Elwood Clements has proposed that new ranks be created for sheriff's deputies in an attempt to encourage officers to stay in his department, which has been criticized by the state for being understaffed.
In a recent letter to County Manager W. Vernon Ford, Clements said that he lost 10 officers last year. Half of those would have stayed if there had been some incentive plan for advancement, he said. The turnover presents a problem for the department since new officers are not as valuable as experienced deputies in "volatile situations," Clements said.
"It's economically sound to try to keep experienced people around," Clements said in an interview last week.
The time and space between promotions from private to sergeant presently is a long step," the Clements [WORD ILLEGIBLE] said. "We are losing a number of trained personnel because of pay status elsewhere, as well as many of the personnel do not see any chance for advancement to sergeant or shift surpervisor."
Clements is recommending that five new positions be created within the department. They would rank between the current private and sergeant status. Officers in those postions would receive pay increase and be in line for promotion to sergeant or shift surpervisor.
Clements said that the need for experience is magnified. The jail now has one guard for every 17 prisoners, while the Virginia Department of Corrections is recommending standards of one guard for every five prisoners. Following the annual state inspection of the jail in June, the Department of Corrections recommended to the County Board that 20 more deputies be hired and that more monitoring cameras be installed to watch prisoners in the elevators going to and from court and in the original "lock-up" areas.
Currently the sheriff's department has 71 employes, 48 of whom work in the jail.
While emphasizing that he has "one of the best operating (jails) in the state," Clements said he realizes the need for more deputies and has asked for them in the past. The number of deputies is set by the state and the County Board, he said. Last year the state allowed for two more deputies, but the County Board refused to fund the positions, Clements said.
A full experienced staff is needed to control the inmates, who can be "ingenious" and sometimes dangerous, Clements said. As an example, he told of an experienced deputy who last week received a tip that one inmate had a machete in his cell. A shakedown was ordered just after the men were locked up for bed. Under a prisoner's mattress, deputies found the machete, formed form a steel bar torn from under the bed and sharpened on the concrete floor. The prisoner was charged with having a weapon in the jail, a felony, Clements said.
"We've taken everything off them from garrotes to live grenades (when they first come into the jail)," Clements said. The machete, however, was probably the most dangerous weapon found on an inmate within the jail, Capt. John R. Eckert said. Clements said he believed that the inamte planned to use the machete to take a hostage and free himself from the jail.
"The local jail is the toughest place to run because you have a changing population that knows the streets," Clements said. "What we want to do is take this aggressiveness (of the prisoners) and steer it into something constructive. . . It's just like training a puppy, (the prisoners are) bigger, meaner and smarter."