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County takes first step in making law enforcement recruiting more competitive

SALISBURY — The Rowan County Board of Commissioners met Monday to discuss topics on a recurring theme: law enforcement.

The board began as Chaplain Michael Taylor spoke on Shield a Badge With Prayer, an initiative he began in 1995 to match 500 prayer warriors across the state with Rowan County law officers.

It continued as the commissioners approved a location for a law enforcement memorial, a 6.5-foot granite, marble and bronze structure.

The memorial will be erected next to the courthouse steps, depending on approval from the Historic Properties Commission. It will bear the names of as many as 60 fallen Rowan County officers.

Finally came the largest law enforcement discussion: just how competitive is the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office in recruiting new officers and retaining current ones?

According to Sheriff Kevin Auten and County Manager Aaron Church, not very.

“We’ve learned that our current hiring rate may be uncompetitive even within Rowan County,” said Church. “Other agencies are giving bonuses at this time, and pay raises continue to be given.”

Church said that while it doesn’t appear the Sheriff’s Office has lost officers within the past six months, there is a fear that officers could begin to leave within the next six months to a year.

The county manager said there are a number of ways that sheriff’s offices are positioning themselves as more attractive.

“It’s not so much complicated as it is convoluted,” Church said. “Even some of the local municipal departments don’t pay Social Security tax. They’re not in the Social Security system. It’s hard to determine what their pay actually is.”

Both Church and Auten expressed concern that officer retention rates will soon be affected, with veteran and experienced officers “poached” by nearby governments offering significantly higher salaries.

“I’ve got two of my crew team members: one’s in the hiring process with Homeland Security, and one’s going to the DMV,” Auten said. “I’m going to lose him. He’s going from $36,000 being here with us eight years to $49,000 to start with.”

Both Church and Auten asked the board to approve a $12,000 study by the Piedmont Triad Regional Council to “ensure that Rowan County’s Sheriff’s Office stays competitive and retains (its) … dedicated staff.”

Church said that while a similar study was done two years ago, the law enforcement industry has changed dramatically since then.

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the updated study.

In other business at Monday’s meeting:

• The commissioners presented a plaque to the Historic Neely Foundation recognizing the Historic Neely School as a Rowan County Historical Landmark.

• They heard a proclamation for Child Abuse Prevention Month by Commissioner Judy Klusman.

“Child abuse happens in our county and our nation much more often than many of us understand and know,” said Klusman. “(T)his is a learned behavior. Many times they pass it down from generation to generation.”

• The commissioners approved the preparation and submission of a grant request to the North Carolina Department of Transportation in the amount of $540,000.

The money would be used to replace Mid-Carolina Regional Airport’s instrument landing system. The current system is over 20 years old, said Church.

Rowan County would be responsible for a 10 percent match of the project cost.

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