Sheriff challenges Council to pay deputies fair salaries

‘Why the hell would anyone come here?’ - Sheriff James W. Phillips Jr.

By Dave Ryan
Posted 3/25/21

CAMBRIDGE — Dorchester County Sheriff James W. Phillips Jr. said Thursday morning that a salary increase for his staff is long overdue. Other county-funded first responders — Emergency …

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Sheriff challenges Council to pay deputies fair salaries

‘Why the hell would anyone come here?’ - Sheriff James W. Phillips Jr.

Posted

CAMBRIDGE — Dorchester County Sheriff James W. Phillips Jr. said Thursday morning that a salary increase for his staff is long overdue. Other county-funded first responders — Emergency Medical Services, 911 Center and Corrections officers — have received two across-the-board increases since Jan. 1, 2020.
Not only were deputies left out, Council President Jay Newcomb’s remarks on the subject shut down hopes at the Sheriff’s Office.
“When you provided a $1 across-the-board raise to the E.M.S., 911 and Corrections on Jan. 1, 2020, something that was greatly needed, I requested that the Sheriff’s Office personnel be included,” Sheriff Phillips wrote in a March 1 letter to the Council. “Council President Jay Newcomb’s response that nothing would be considered for the Sheriff’s Office until deputies started leaving for better pay, quite frankly stunned me. I can’t believe someone in his capacity would rather lose highly trained and experienced employees rather than pay them a competing salary.”
In 2020, the Dorchester Sheriff’s Office conducted a salary and benefits survey. Forms were sent to every sheriff’s and local police agency on the Eastern Shore.
Information included agencies’ responses, published data and some documentation from the Easton Police Department’s salary and benefit survey of 2019.
Dorchester has a long way to go to be competitive — the starting salary for a police recruit ranks 19th out of 22 responding agencies, while an experienced, or lateral, officer’s starting pay is 17th of 19. Following are examples of pay being offered around the Eastern Shore:

Police recruit starting salary
Kent County Sheriff — $51,983 (1st)
Maryland State Police (as of June, 2019) — $48,099 (4th)
Hurlock Police Dept. — $45,000 (6th)
Cambridge Police Dept. — $43,167 (10th)
Dorchester Sheriff’s Office — $39,139 (19th)

Berlin Police Dept. — $37,000 (22nd)

Lateral starting salary
Salisbury PD (three years’ experience) — $52,916 (1st)
Oxford PD — $51,000-55,000 based on experience (4th)
Cambridge PD — $47,333-$51,239 (7th)
Caroline Co. Sheriff’s Office — $46,377 (8th)
Talbot Co. Sheriff’s Office — $46,280-$55,549 depending on years of service, plus bonuses
Dorchester Co. Sheriff’s Office — $42,088 (17th)
Delmar PD — $39,949 (19th)

Corporal
Easton PD — $73,000 (1st)
Kent Co. Sheriff’s Office — $59,134 (3rd)

Talbot County Sheriff’s Office — $56,771, plus bonuses
Cambridge PD — $53,471 (5th)
Caroline Co. Sheriff’s Office — $49,812 (9th)
Dorchester Co. Sheriff’s Office — $45,275-70,613 (14th of 15)

Other ranks
For Sergeants, Dorchester’s pay is $48,822-$76,145, 14th of 15 responses; Lieutenants are $61,254-$95,535, 9th of 14; Captains are $66,078-$103,059, 8th of 9; Full-time administrative staff rank 12th of 12, with $25,589-$39,910 for administrative and bookkeeper, and $36,409-$56,785 for warrants and administrative records.

There are also bonuses, benefits and shift differentials, which either aren’t offered in Dorchester, or lag behind those of other agencies. “Law enforcement is under attack nationally, on the State level and with your refusal to include Sheriff’s personnel in the wage program last year, apparently locally also,” Sheriff Phillips wrote in his March 1 letter.
In a bind
The situation puts the Sheriff’s Office in a bind when it comes to recruitment, especially at a time when police around the nation are facing criticism.
“Why the hell would anyone come to work here?” the sheriff asked.
Since the sheriff’s letter was sent, a deputy has resigned. That was a two-fold loss — it was a female, and a county native with six years of experience on the force.
“She sees no light at the end of the tunnel,” Sheriff Phillips said.

His office has few deputies on patrol as it is. Three or four is standard, and this in a county that is Maryland’s biggest by area. So if the deputies are at the northern border, near Federalsburg, and a call comes in from Elliotts Island, for example, it will be at least 40 minutes before help arrives.
In 2010, the county cut two deputies from the force, replacing one more recently. That leaves the Office down an officer, while, “Our call volume has probably increased 35-40 percent,” Sheriff Phillips said.
It’s a job that requires independent thinkers, he said, and an awareness of the unique responsibilities of a sheriff’s deputy. The ones who stay, he said, are particularly motivated to serve their community.
‘A nightmare’
“It’s just a nightmare” trying to cover the county under those circumstances, the sheriff said. “We’re treated like the red-haired stepchild.”
Asked why that is, the sheriff, who is an elected official in his own right, said, “Because they can’t control us.”
“I work for the taxpayers, not the county commissioners,” Sheriff Phillips said.
Still, it’s the County Council that determines the budget, something that will happen at the end of April. It has left the sheriff unsure of what is happening at the council.
“This group doesn’t communicate at all,” he said. “I’ve thought about this for a long time, and I don’t see a lot of movement on their side.”
A request for comment from the council members did not receive a response by Thursday afternoon. The full text of the sheriff’s letter can be found at baytobaynews.com/dorchester/stories/sheriff-to-county-council-deputies-deserve-a-raise,43648