Sheriffs ask Legislature for money to offset staffing shortage, boost deputy pay

Officials said they can’t hire or retain employees

By: - September 25, 2023 4:14 pm

Sheriffs from across the state met at the state Capitol on Monday to ask lawmakers to consider legislation to increase deputy pay. (Photo by Mindy Ragan Wood/Oklahoma Voice)

OKLAHOMA CITY — Dozens of Oklahoma sheriffs and deputies asked state lawmakers Monday to consider legislation that would boost funding to help tackle staff shortages. 

Sheriff’s officials testified Monday that they can’t hire or retain employees for the wages they’re able to pay. While recruitment is a nationwide problem, Oklahoma deputies often face dangerous situations alone due to understaffing issues.

“They’re responding to domestic violence situations, highly volatile situations by themselves and it’s incredibly dangerous,” said Noble County Sheriff Matt McGuire. “I would love to have more manpower.”

Sheriff’s offices currently receive most of their funding through a portion of county property tax collections, but officials told senators Monday that it’s not enough. Their departments face stiff salary competition from cities and state law enforcement agencies that in some cases pay twice what sheriffs offer, they said. 

“I can’t compete with my convenience stores in Nowata County,” said Nowata County Sheriff Jason McClain. “They start at $12 an hour, and I can’t pay that at the jail.” 

Oklahoma Sheriffs discuss staffing shortages due to low pay Monday at the state Capitol. (Photo by Mindy Ragan Wood/Oklahoma Voice)

McClain said Oklahoma has to “provide a livable wage.”

In a statement, Sen. Darrell Weaver, R-Moore, said he knew deputies were underpaid, but his interim study highlighted the true problem counties face.

Lawmakers often use interim studies to learn more about policy issues that might be the focus of future legislation. 

“One sheriff revealed that his budget only allows him to compensate jailers, dispatchers, and other essential employees at around $10 an hour, with deputies only slightly above that,” he said. “That is simply not enough for these dangerous and taxing jobs.”

Sheriffs asked the lawmakers to consider a passing bill similar to one  in Texas — Senate Bill 22 — that provides state funding to counties with populations of 300,000 or less to boost staffing levels through better salaries and benefits. The bill, which took effect this month, also provides additional funds for prosecutors to handle the anticipated uptick in cases. It will cost Texas taxpayers $330 million a year, according to the Texas Tribune. 

Texas sheriffs now make a minimum salary of $75,000 a year, while patrol deputies make $45,000 and jail deputies $40,000.

Weaver said he hopes the concept of the Texas bill will become a reality for Oklahoma. 

“They had the same problems,” Weaver said of the Lone Star state. “Is it going to be verbatim what happened in Senate Bill 22? Probably not, but it gives us a good starting point.”



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Mindy Ragan Wood
Mindy Ragan Wood

Mindy covers the legislature for Oklahoma Voice. Her areas of focus include infrastructure, municipal government policies, and human services with an emphasis on the needs of intellectually vulnerable and physically challenged adults.