INDIANAPOLIS — In March, Marion County Sheriff Kerry Forestal asked the City-County Council to consider an increase in funding as it begins planning for next year’s budget.
Forestal said the MCSO has faced a major staffing shortfall when it comes to the number of deputies on the department and has also struggled to lessen the turnover rate. He has attributed these challenges to low entry-level pay with the department, causing an inability to compete with pay of other agencies.
“Money is tight. I don’t like to spend money, but we have to spend money to stay competitive,” said Forestal. “I didn’t ask for huge raises, but they were competitive raises.”
Forestal said his request for increased funding was based on recommendations that came out of a KPMG audit, which the City-County Council suggested be conducted.
“All I really asked was for us to put that into effect, and I think I really got a good response from a good majority of the council, the controller’s office, the mayor’s office,” said Forestal.
Initially, Forestal requested from the City-County Council an increase in funding of $661,000 to raise the starting salaries of all employees ranked deputy and detention deputy who have less than four years of experience.
Instead, the department announced something even bigger would take effect Friday.
An updated salary scale will be in place for employees of every rank, as well as some civilian employees. The new salaries will also include built-in annual raises for the first three years, an incentive to help retain more employees.
“The first paycheck that will be received in this pay will be tomorrow,” Forestal told FOX59 on Thursday.
For example, a detention deputy would normally receive a starting salary of $36,070.60. Starting Friday, the new starting salary will begin at $39,520.
“Detention deputies are the ones that work in the jail, they’re not out on the street. Their pay was essentially frozen,” he said.
In the first three years, an automatic raise will be worked in, with the detention deputy reaching $43,791 by year three.
“That’s when somebody says, I see a reason to stick around,” said Forestal.
At the bottom of this article, you can read more on the new pay scales for employees.
Forestal said the money used for these pay increases for the remainder of the year, falls within the constraints of the department’s 2021 budget.
“This year, this will cost us $1.8 million, this raise. We expect to absorb that within the budget,” he said.
Forestal shared, “The controller would support us if we don’t. He knew it was important enough that whichever way you go, you can’t open a new Community Justice Center without that bump up for new personnel.”
The sheriff said that the $1.8 million figure is expected to double next year.
“We will have that in next year’s budget, so each year it has already been planned ahead. When we focused on this, the controller knows that each year that will be increased,” Forestal said.
The 2022 budget for the city has not yet been approved by the City-County Council, however, Forestal said about two weeks ago his department confirmed the agreement with the city controller to put these new pay scales into effect.
Forestal said raising pay for employees of all ranks, as well as some civilian employees, will help provide a more competitive pay and incentive for both new hires, as well as current employees, to stick with the department. He also hopes as the staffing situation improves, that the amount of money spent on overtime will decrease.
This year, the MCSO has paid out about $1.7 million in overtime, an increase of more than $820,000 since March.
“We should be able to reduce the amount of overtime when people, instead of working 16 hours a day, they only work 12, so that is our goal, to live within that budget,” Forestal explained.
Forestal said the news has been met with gratitude by employees.
“I think that people were waiting for this to occur for a long time and we were able to get it done,” he said. “We had some people that actually were moving on and heard about that and asked if they could recall their resignations, which we were happy to do.”
Still, Forestal said the department still has a ways to go when it comes to improving their staffing numbers. Despite an aggressive marketing campaign between signage on their property, radio and television ads, the pay has stood in the way of hiring in the numbers they need to be fully staffed.
In March, the MCSO had 369 deputies in the jail division, with 138 vacancies needing to be filled. In the judicial enforcement, or courthouse division, there were 145 deputies, with 43 positions needing to be filled. In the communications division, or 911 center, there were 142 employees, with a 25-person shortfall.
The agency said these numbers haven’t changed much, and certainly not for the better, but they hope this will change that.
“We recognize they should be rewarded, at least at a reasonable salary to continue to put their lives on the line for the community,” said the sheriff.
“As deputy sheriffs in particular, our job doesn’t end after somebody is in handcuffs. We continue as they come to jail, we have to ensure that they’re protected while they’re in jail. We feed people three times a day, we provide them medical care, we take them to court, we follow all the way through the system until they’re either freed or moved on to the state prison.”
As preparations continue on the new Community Justice Center (CJC) in the city’s Twin Aire neighborhood, Forestal said they are preparing for the sheriff’s office, jail, and county courthouse to move to the new campus.
“Brand new building, that’s always a positive thing. It’s like somebody who may get a new car — it’s been freshly painted, it’s still a dangerous place to be,” said Forestal.
“We’ll have close to 3,000 prisoners there, but the idea is to keep everyone safe – both the prisoners and the people.”
Forestal said right now, 180 inmates being held at the Marion County Jail are charged with murder.
“When it reopens post-COVID it’s gonna be a busy place to work and we’ll have a lot of deputies who may be asked to work longer hours, and now at least they’ll have some compensation that is better than they did.”
He said with pay and staffing improvements, they hope the modern design of the new jail will also aid in their efforts to keep staff and prisoners safe.
He said the ceilings are higher, and the facility will have more open areas and more accessibility.
“When we have a tragedy like a suicide in the jail, there’s dark areas around here that you can put a camera in, but you just can’t see,” said Forestal. “Even if a deputy doesn’t see it, we’re hoping that more often an inmate will say, ‘you need to take some action.'”
“The last thing we want is somebody to die in here and that’s one of the things we’re going – with this new, more modern design, it should reduce the possibility of people dying.”
In Oct. 2020, two inmates died while being held in the Marion County Jail. This week, charges were filed against eight men in the fatal beating of 38-year-old Martin Cruz.
Cruz was being held on charges of child molestation, which according to court documents, may have fueled the attack.
“Whatever the charges – the recent charge – that is not a crime that is usually looked upon well upon inmates and we have to be sure that nothing happens when people are in here,” Forestal said.
Although the sheriff wasn’t able to offer specific comments on the Cruz case, citing the potential for litigation, he said, “The goal is to be sure that we protect everyone while they’re in here. No one’s guilty of a crime until they’ve been charged and they’ve been found guilty and move on to the state prison system.”
“This should help the staffing issues, the more people we have, the more sets of eyes,” he said, referring to the impacts of the new pay implementations and move to the new CJC.
“The more modern our facility can be, the safer it can be for others. We’re really talking about 1960s and 1980s at the best,” said Forestal.
Another inmate, James Smith, 51, also died while in custody at the Marion County Jail just one week after Cruz’s death. He was found unresponsive by jail staff.
According to the jail, Smith was assigned to a single-cell before the time of his death. The cause of death was an apparent stabbing with an “improvised weapon,” said jail officials.
Citing an ongoing investigation, Forestal was unable to comment on the case, but said, “We know that there are prisoners out there that spend every day figuring out a way to beat the system; how do I block a door open? How do I make it easier for me to escape? How do I get into someone else’s cell?”
He said when the MCSCO and the jail move to the new location in January 2022, these types of opportunities should no longer exist.
“Some of the tools that they have to come and repair, they don’t make anymore because the cells are so old,” Forestal shared.
A spokesperson for the MCSO confirmed that four employees were disciplined in reference to Smith’s case.
“Four employees received discipline for policy violations discovered during the course of the Internal Affairs investigation. One Jail Control Operator, a civilian position that assists Deputies in monitoring jail operations, was ordered to receive remedial training. Two Detention Deputies were suspended without pay for eight hours. One Deputy was suspended without pay for sixteen hours. Internal Affairs investigators found that each of these four employees did not complete inmate wellness checks in the minimum intervals required by policy.”MCSO spokesperson
The investigation continues into Smith’s death, meantime the case involving the eight men charged in Cruz’s death, is in the hands of the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office. “We appreciate the cooperation,” said Forestal.
“We had IMPD that investigated both of the crimes so there’s a fresh set of eyes, not just our eyes saying whether we did right or wrong, and then the ultimately charging authority comes from the Marion County Prosecutor.”
A LOOK AT NEW MCSO PAY SCALES:
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The MCSO said it encourages anyone interested in applying for a position with the department to visit its website for more information.