LUMBERTON — Although Robeson County has among the highest crime rates in the state, Sheriff Ken Sealey isn’t fretting over the fact that he is down 18 department members — at least not yet.
“I’ve got plenty of good candidates applying for the jobs,” Sealey said. “Thank God.”
Sealey currently is operating short 10 deputies and eight detention center employees, according to Angela Jones, director of Human Resources for the county. When fully staffed, the Sheriff’s Office employs 237 people.
Sealey said it has been difficult working with the staff shortage. He attributes the shortage to recent retirements resulting from both years of service and medical reasons. Over the past months he has seen 14 deputies, several jailers, two school resource officers, a captain, a lieutenant, a first sergeant, and a line sergeant retire.
“Anytime you lose that many from retirements, you lose a lot of experience,” Sealey said. “We have been short in some areas but we have been able to keep up covering the whole county. We have to make sure our citizens are served. We have to work with what we have.”
While officials say there has been a reduction in the number of individuals seeking law enforcement training and certification, Sealey said positions advertised for his department on the county’s website and through law enforcement publications have netted “many applications.”
“All of the applicants have to be certified through Sheriff Standards and have Basic Law Enforcement Certification,” he said. “We have some really good applicants. Some have 14 to 15 years in law enforcement and want to come to work for us. That’s a blessing.”
Sealey is hopeful that within the next couple of weeks he will have filled all of the vacancies. But, no new hires will be able to start work until after they attend the county’s monthly orientation for new employees, which, according to Sealey, usually is held the second Tuesday of each month.
The Robeson County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously last week to give Sealey permission to hire his son, Timothy, as a deputy, if the sheriff chooses to do so. Commissioner David Edge was not present at the meeting.
Timothy Sealey, according to his father, has been working as a deputy for three years in another county.
The sheriff is responsible for hiring all of his department employees. State law permits a sheriff to hire even immediate family members if approval is given by a county’s board of commissioners.
“This is not a conflict of interest,” Sealey said. “It is provided for by state statute, and I would not be his direct supervisor.”
Sealey said immediately after last week’s meeting of the commissioners that he has not decided if he will hire his son.
“This just gives me the option to hire him,” Sealey said. “If I do hire him, I won’t treat him any different than I would treat anyone else.”
Angela Jones said the salaries of the 18 vacant positions total $646,441. The sheriff can’t move the money from the budget line item designated for salaries and use it for any other purpose.
“He has to use that money for the purpose it is allocated,” Jones said. “If he wants to he can come back to the county Personnel Committee and ask that the money be used to re-classify positions.”
The county Personnel Committee consists of four county commissioners, the Human Resources director, the county manager and assistant manager, the county General Services manager, and the county attorney.
“I would think he would want to fill as many vacancies as quickly as possible,” County Manager Ricky Harris said. “He needs to be full-staffed so the county can be protected.”
Even if the positions are not filled, Harris said he doesn’t’ expect a big savings to the county.
“The sheriff usually always runs over his annual budget,” Harris said. “He usually always runs over in overtime, so even without the positions there won’t be a savings to the county.”
Robeson County ranked No. 1 in violent crime, property crime and overall crime in a report released recently by the SBI. The report depends on self-reporting by law enforcement agencies across the states.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.