SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Plagued by staffing shortages, Undersheriff Kelly Martinez is requiring all deputies to work 12.5 hours of overtime every two pay periods to try and satisfy minimum staffing levels inside jails, courts, and other units.
The Sheriff's Department currently has 288 vacancies, however a spokesperson for the Sheriff's Department says that 130 of them are newly created positions and do not impact day-to-day operations.
The new directive, as outlined in a June 3 memo, comes as the county continues to pay tens of millions of dollars a year in overtime pay to deputies, nearly half of which goes to deputies working in jails and courtrooms.
San Diego Sheriff's Department Overtime Pay
According to data obtained by CBS 8, the county has paid $113,533,031 million in total overtime to deputies since 2019.
In 2019, the department paid nearly $42 million in overtime. That amount dropped during the pandemic to $27.7 million in 2020 and has increased since with deputies receiving $33.1 million in 2021 and nearly $10.8 million so far this year.
The impacts of staffing shortages and mandatory overtime in county jails
The staffing shortages and forced overtime shifts inside county jails have much larger impacts, says longtime Sheriff Captain and former candidate for Sheriff Dave Myers.
"Mandatory overtime only makes matter worse and is a result of a lack of management oversight. Staffing shortages, in my opinion, have directly led to jail deaths," says Myers. "I’ve never seen it so bad throughout my career."
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News of rising job vacancies and spiking overtime pay inside the sheriff's department comes just four months after former Sheriff Bill Gore abruptly announced his retirement. Gore's resignation came on the same day that state auditors released a searing assessment of oversight in San Diego County jails.
The audit revealed that 185 people had died inside county jails in a 14-year span from 2006 to 2020.
However, a sheriff's department spokesperson tells CBS 8 that staffing shortages and forced overtime in county lockups have not contributed to the high death rates inside jails.
"In the last 18 months, we have worked hard to invest in and improve our jail safety record," said the spokesperson. "In recent months, the department has increased access to Naloxone by individuals in our custody, increased medical and mental health screening at intake, increased medicated assisted treatment and better follow-up medical and mental health care, and more substantive and frequent security, and safety checks."
The spokesperson says that beginning last week Undersheriff Martinez reduced the overtime for those deputies in jails, courts, and law enforcement duties.
"As of June 3rd, all identified deputies assigned to law enforcement, courts, and the jails are required to work a total of 12.5 overtime hours every two pay periods, said the spokesperson. "This is expected to be a temporary directive. We have scheduled and routine evaluation and adjustment periods of this policy to ensure that it is working and relieving overworked staff."
Staffing shortages in the department
And while the department says it is addressing the workforce issues in county jails, the high number of vacancies in San Diego County must also be addressed.
"The Sheriff's Department is experiencing workforce shortages in the same way that every other industry and law enforcement agency in the country is," said the spokesperson for the department. "We face challenges in terms of recruiting, retention, and retirement. We have deconstructed our hiring process and created one that is much quicker and more efficient without sacrificing our ability to hire high-quality personnel."
In response to the high overtime payouts, the department spokesperson tells CBS 8 that number should drop due to fewer "large-scale critical incidents" such as fires and other major response calls. The spokesperson also says that management has cut down on overtime abuses and has implemented new programs such as one that allows retired deputies to return to work.
Meanwhile, the mandatory overtime requirement has other lasting impacts, including on the deputies who are currently on the force.
"When a deputy cannot commit to attending a little league game, let alone coach the team, it takes a toll on our members, their marriages, relationships, families, and their health," said a representative from the San Diego Sheriff's Association.
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Former Sheriff's Commander Myers agrees about the toll the overtime can take on deputies.
"Management is completely missing the fixes needed to address low morale, pay, and benefits. Workers need time off to decompress, and time to spend with family and friends. Law enforcement is a tough job and is made tougher when Sheriff’s leadership doesn’t have their best interests."