MARION, Ind. (WISH) — Attendees packed the room and spilled into the hallway at Wednesday night’s Grant County Council meeting to draw attention to law enforcement pay disparities.
Dozens of community members wore “WE STAND WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT” T-shirts bearing the name of a local police union.
Grant County deputies lobbied officials for a salary increase after discovering they made significantly less than officers at other law enforcement agencies across Indiana, union leaders said.
Starting pay for a deputy at the Grant County Sheriff’s Department is approximately 30 percent lower than the statewide median, according to pay data compiled by the Indiana Sheriff’s Association.
“Of course they’re going to make more in a bigger county,” said Doug Jentes, a longtime Grant County deputy. “But some counties that are similar size-wise, population- and crime-wise pay $10,000 to $15,000 more. We’re just trying to get the council to meet us somewhere in the middle.”
Council members declined to discuss the pay raise request during Wednesday’s meeting due to ongoing negotiations with union leaders.
Shane Middlesworth, the Grant County Council president, told attendees it would be “inappropriate” to address the matter.
At least 15 deputies had quit the force since 2015 for better paying jobs, employees told News 8.
Matt Sneed, a sergeant with the Grant County Sheriff’s Department, said a deputy he had supervised left to accept a law enforcement job in a neighboring county.
“[He] makes almost $18,000 a year more,” Sneed said. “I mean, it’s hard to compete with that.”
Recruiting new deputies would be increasingly difficult without competitive pay, Sneed and Jentes said, adding an understaffed department could compromise officers’ and citizens’ safety.
“It’s absolutely a public safety issue because we have fewer backup officers on the road [with deputies quitting over pay],” Sneed explained. “[If there’s an emergency,] we’re putting the public in jeopardy… we got to drive maybe just a little faster than we normally would because we are so much farther away from the scene.”
The majority of Granty County deputies work — or have worked — a second job to make ends meet, according to sheriff’s department employees.
Sneed works three jobs, he told News 8.
He paused when asked if he had ever considered leaving the Grant County Sheriff’s Department.
“This is home,” he said. “When we got into this job, it was never about the money. It was about serving my community and making it a safer place.”
The Grant County Council approved raises for non-law enforcement county employees during Wednesday’s meeting.
Middlesworth did not immediately respond to requests for comment from News 8.