Mohave County sheriff tells Board of Supervisors deputy numbers well below national average
KINGMAN – Mohave County Sheriff Doug Schuster will present a strategic plan to the county’s Board of Supervisors next month, in which he’s expected to request funding for additional deputies. And according to Schuster, the need for those deputies may be dire.
“Since I’ve been in office, there’s been a public outcry for more deputy positions and quicker response times,” Schuster said to county supervisors Tuesday morning. His strategic plan this month, in advance of the FY 2019-20 budget, will focus on the department’s most pressing needs.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics’ last Census of State and Local Law Enforcement Agencies took place in 2008. The census provided a bleak comparison for the sheriff’s department’s apparent staffing shortages. Mohave County’s population has grown more than projected 10 years later while the department operates with fewer deputies, according to Schuster.
“Appropriate staffing and competitive compensation are our highest priorities,” Schuster said. “Based on industry standards nationwide, the average ratio of law enforcement officers is between 2.23 to 2.51 per 1,000 residents. The Arizona average is 1.94 to two officers per 1,000 residents. In our sheriff’s office, that ratio is 0.98 deputies to 1,000 residents.”
Nearly 30 years ago, the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office had 89 law enforcement officers in its ranks, Schuster told Mohave County supervisors on Tuesday.
“Based on population growth and national standards, we should have 188 to 212 deputies in our department,” he said. “Today, we have 83.”
According to Schuster, those 83 deputies include himself, as well as administrative members of the department. Of the department’s 83 deputies, about 50 interact directly with Mohave County residents, Schuster said. He said the ratio of deputies to Mohave County residents does not reflect the populations of municipalities such as Lake Havasu City, Bullhead City or Kingman – if it did, that number would be closer to 0.4 deputies per 1,000 Mohave County residents.
And the job isn’t always easy for those deputies, either: As the fifth-largest county in the U.S., Mohave County encompasses nearly as much land mass as the states of Delaware and Maryland combined. For the Mohave County Sheriff’s Department, that means patrolling an average of about 213 square miles, per deputy, according to Schuster.
“Last year we had more than 50,000 calls for service,” Schuster said. “Our response times have greatly suffered, and citizens are waiting longer and longer for deputies to arrive on the scene.”
The Mohave County Sheriff’s Department’s staffing shortages go hand-in-hand with deputies’ compensation, according to Schuster.
“For years we’ve been known as a ‘training ground’ for other local, incorporated law enforcement agencies,” Schuster said. “Mohave County has the lowest salaries in the county. We invest $80,000 to $100,000 into training each deputy … historically, they’ve transferred to other agencies within three years of service with the sheriff’s department.”
This statement, Schuster clarified on Thursday, was based on his own personal observations during 28 years of law enforcement service.
“The results have been less staff, a decline in productivity, less experienced officers and higher turnover rates,” Schuster said. “It’s critical to increase our starting wages to be competitive and correct retention of our deputies. It’s my deepest desire to knock the hell out of crime in this city. With appropriate staffing levels, this can be accomplished … the Mohave County Sheriff’s Office will bring its budget proposal before the (board of supervisors) in the coming months.”
According to Schuster, a draft of his strategic plan for the department could become available for review as soon as next week. More details on that plan will be reported as they become available.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics will release its next State and Local Law Enforcement Census next spring, according to the bureau’s website.