Polk considers raises for officers who obtain BLET certification

Published 6:55 pm Thursday, June 23, 2011

Polk County commissioners are looking into the possibility of offering increased pay to non-certified sheriff’s office employees who wish to obtain Basic Law Enforcement Training (BLET).
Commissioners met Monday, June 20 and tabled a decision to create a new policy that would allow employees who do not currently have the certification to receive a raise if they choose to complete the certification. The certification would not be required, although commissioners and the sheriff have said previously they should consider a policy requiring that all new sheriff office employees have the certification.
Officers, particularly jail officers, whose pay level may be as low as a grade 16, would be able to increase their pay to a grade 20, which would be a 20 percent pay increase. If commissioners agree, the policy would automatically pay officers who obtain BLET certification at a grade 20, which is the starting salary for deputies.
Some officers, such as patrol officers, are required to hold BLET certification prior to being hired, but jailers are not required to hold the certification.
Commissioners said they tabled the decision in order to speak with sheriff Donald Hill after concerns about the proposed policy change were expressed.
Commissioners asked sheriff’s officer Ronnie Smith how long the training takes to complete. Smith said the training is approximately eight months for persons who work, which includes four hours per night and some Saturdays.
Training is offered at local colleges, including Blue Ridge Technical College, Isothermal Community College-Spindale and Asheville-Buncombe Technical College. Full-time students can obtain the certification in about four months, he said.
Smith said it would be impossible for officers who work a 12-hour shift to obtain BLET certification because the classes begin at 6 p.m. He said if the officers reduced their hours to eight per day, that would take away 16 hours of pay per week, and most officers couldn’t afford the decreased pay.
Questions were also raised about how third shift employees could attend the classes, which conflict with their work shift.
Commissioner Tom Pack said the county needs to make sure the training is available to all employees on each shift who want to obtain the certification.
“Otherwise, you’re only going to help a portion and not the others,” said Pack.
Commissioners agreed if the decision is made to raise the pay for officers working to obtain BLET certification to grade 20, the county would work with the sheriff to handle scheduling conflicts. Commissioners also mentioned that more money could be put in the sheriff’s office budget to pay for part-time employees to cover the shifts.
Smith also mentioned another possible conflict for jailers, who are required by the state to obtain 160 hours of training in order to be a jailer.
Polk County Manager Ryan Whitson said the 160-hour training hours are done on county time and the county pays for the training.
“Plus it’s a stressful thing to go through BLET,” Smith said. “You’ll have some that won’t be able to sustain the work schedule, home life and training.”
Commissioner Ted Owens said Monday that he was trying to understand how someone could work and do eight months worth of training.
But commissioner Cindy Walker said it’s no different than teachers obtaining a master’s degree to receive a pay increase. They work and go to school at night, she said, and although it’s not easy, some are willing to go for the additional education.
Commissioners plan to seek more information on the possibilities and speak with Polk County Sheriff Donald Hill before approving the new policy to offer the pay increase. Commissioners also said they would like to know how many employees would be interested in seeking the certification.
The board will discuss the item again during its July meeting, which will be held on July 11 at 7 p.m.

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