GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A deputy shortage is hitting sheriff’s offices hard across West Michigan.
The Kalamazoo County Sheriff’s Office is especially hurting. They’re supposed to have 157 deputies on the roads and in the jail. Right now, they’re down 33, according to Undersheriff James VanDyken.
Next door in Calhoun County, their normal staff is 164, and they’re currently down 22. The majority of those openings are in corrections. The sheriff’s office recently lost 18 deputies to retirement.
In Montcalm County, Sheriff Mike Williams believes this is a public safety concern.
“We’re not staffing our patrol shifts fully right now,” Williams said. “Once we fill those positions, we’ll be able to do that. Until then, there are shifts that are going unfilled.”
In 2016, the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners voted to eliminate 10.5 full-time positions from public safety as part of budget cuts. In 2020, citizens voted to add deputies again, but the sheriff’s office has struggled to hire them.
The department is supposed to have 55 working. They’re currently short 11, but Williams said he has extended conditional offers to two people. To fill in the gaps, the sheriff’s office is getting help from state police.
“That can’t go on forever,” Williams said. “And really quite frankly, they’re in the same position that we are. This isn’t just a county thing or a local police thing. It affects the state as well.”
The Kent County Sheriff’s Office is a notable exception — fully-staffed with 550 sworn-in deputies.
Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young said that’s taken a tremendous effort: recruiting through police academies, their cadet program and job fairs. Despite that, they’re getting fewer applications for openings.
“(In the past) I would have 200, maybe 300 people put in for an opening in corrections or law enforcement,” LaJoye-Young said. “We did post just to get that group going to stay ahead of our numbers. And I believe we got like 35 applications for 10 openings in the months of December and January.”
Capt. Jacob Sparks in Ottawa County said sheriff’s offices are relying on police academies, and that group’s numbers are dwindling.
“They’re putting out a smaller number of certifiable candidates to hire, and all these departments are competing for those same candidates,” Sparks said.
Making things worse for smaller counties, some deputies are leaving for larger sheriff’s offices. Ionia County Sheriff Charlie Noll told News 8 that he’s been in charge for four years, and he’s never been fully-staffed. In the fall, he had three deputies resign.
Noll said some are leaving for areas like Grand Rapids and Lansing. Ottawa County has benefitted too.
“We have great resources, great facilities, great training, which I think makes it desirable for some people who are already working in other agencies to come work for us,” Sparks said.
Branch County Undersheriff Keith Eichler told News 8 that half of his jail staff is unfilled, and deputies have been working mandatory overtime. He said they’re trying to accommodate the best they can and give people time off.
“I have some guys that are single people that are just like, ‘Hey you know, I got to catch up on my bills at home,’” Eichler said. “’I’ve been working 12 hours a day, and banks aren’t open when I’m at work all day long, and I got to get some things done.'”
Oceana County Sheriff Craig Mast called retention “a very real issue for law enforcement,” adding that they make a big investment in deputies, and it hurts when they leave.
Williams gave a pitch for those considering a career in law enforcement.
“It really is a good profession to be in,” Williams said. “There have been in the last year or two some bad examples and some bad apples that have made nationwide news. And that’s not the norm. We don’t want those type of people in our profession. And the people that we do want, and the people that do come can get a lot of job satisfaction, they can work in a great environment within our agency and within a lot of the other agencies in West Michigan and have a good career.”
Below, see the deputy shortage and typical full staff numbers — which includes road patrol deputies and deputies working in corrections — for some West Michigan Counties:
- Full Staff: 55
- Deputy Shortage: 11 (2 offers made)
- Full Staff: 164
- Deputy Shortage: 22
- Full Staff: 550
- Deputy Shortage: 0
- Full Staff: 24
- Deputy Shortage: 7
Van Buren County:
- Full Staff: 57
- Deputy Shortage: 1
- Full Staff: 157
- Deputy Shortage: 33
St. Joseph County:
- Full Staff: 65
- Deputy Shortage: 0
- Full Staff: 30
- Deputy Shortage: 11
- Full Staff: 60
- Deputy Shortage: 0
- Full Staff: 64
- Deputy Shortage: 3
Sparks estimated Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office’s full staff at around 210 to 220. That combines road patrol and corrections deputies. He said they’re currently down approximately 10 to 12 deputies, but “that’s on paper.”
“We currently have four or five deputies who are hired and are in the background phase process and an additional four or five deputies who are in field training,” Sparks said. “Our field training program takes approximately four months to complete, where those newly hired deputies get the skills and training they need to become solely competent.”
News 8 reached out to the Barry County, Allegan County and Muskegon County Sheriff’s Offices but did not hear back as of Thursday afternoon.