With nine vacancies, the Bartow County Jail struggles to find qualified applicants to fill the open positions.
“We go through a lot of applicants before we get anybody,” Bartow County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Gary Dover said. “For instance, we tested 20 people a few weeks ago. Nineteen people passed the written test, and then 19 of them passed the physical test. And 18 of them failed the background. So that is kind of where we are.”
The BCSO Jail Division is hoping a proactive approach — testing once or twice per month — will increase the turnaround on qualified personnel.
“There are a lot of people that are scared of this job and wouldn’t normally apply up here, but … I’d like everyone to know it’s not really like what you see on TV. … That’s TV,” Dover said. “Sure, there’s a chance somebody could get hurt. ... It’s not like that all time.”
The application process begins with a simple employment form, which are culled by Dover’s office.
“We try to look for ones that are filled out correctly and throw out the ones that are blatant disregard, like it looks like they wrote it in crayon or something,” he said.
From there, the BCSO runs a criminal background and begins lining applicants up for a written test.
“[My secretary] may go through 50, 60 or 70 just to get 20 to come up here and take the test,” Dover said. “A lot of times they will put in the application maybe they’ve been hired somewhere else already or they are not interested.”
Following the written portion of the exam, candidates are put through a physical, which includes running a 12-minute mile and performing a number of pushups and situps within one minute.
That’s the easy part. Then comes the background packet.
“That’s where a lot of them stumble,” Dover explained. “When I say a background packet, it’s an inch-and-a-half thick. It’s pretty involved.”
The packet includes an employment history, financial information, references — and a history of drug use, which Dover sees as possibly the biggest hurdle to employment.
“It’s a lot of young people. They don’t know — if they went out and smoked mushrooms last year, that’s bad. And they don’t think that much about it,” he said. “… That’s a hallucinogenic; it could be in your system forever. It’s like LSD and some of those other things — they don’t really think about that.”
For those who make it to the hiring point, there are numerous upsides to the position. With starting pay for uncertified deputies at $24,000 and mandated officers in the $30,000 range, jail deputies receive health and life insurance, retirement and a flexible schedule.
“A lot of people who come up here and they will still be in college. They’ll say, ‘Hey, put me on night shift and I can go to college,’ because, you know, we’re off six months of the year basically,” Dover said. “With that 12-hour shift, they’re off three days one week and four days the next week, so it lets them have that flexibility. It also lets them have like a lot of people at the fire department work two jobs; a lot of people up here do as well because they have so much off-time when they are on that shift work that they can do that.”
The major sees other benefits that may less tangible.
“One of the things you don’t see nowadays is really stability, so I don’t think we are going to shut down. If we do, the world’s going to be in pretty bad shape,” he said. “... You know, it’s a good educational thing. ... There’s one guy that worked for me here who’s now working for the Secret Service in Washington. ... You never know where you are going to wind up. I’ve got a couple of guys that worked for me work for the Marshals. I’ve got a couple of guys that worked for me that work for Homeland Security. ... Some people use it as a stepping stone.”
Those interested in applying are encouraged to contact Amy Walters at 770-382-5050 extension 6000 for application information, testing schedules and pre-registration. Applications may be found online at www.bartow.org.
“Don’t be afraid or ashamed or scared to put in an application. All we can do is tell you no,” Dover said.