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Knox Co. Sheriff Tom Spangler calls shortage in correctional officers a 'bidding war'

"We are in a bidding war, and we've got to make sure that we retain and recruit those individuals to come to Knox County," said Sheriff Spangler.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — There are more than 1,200 inmates in custody at three facilities across Knox County as of Monday, according to the Knox County Sheriff's Office. Knox County Sheriff Tom Spangler said he believes those facilities are not staffed as much as they need to be.

He called a lack of corrections officers a shortage, issue and challenge. He said there are 96 positions open across the county, out of 312 positions they need to run the facilities.

Spangler also said that in order for him to hire more corrections officers, the county would need to provide more money.

"I heard somebody say, 'We don't want to get into a bidding war.' I'm sorry, we are in a bidding war, and we've got to make sure that we retain and recruit those individuals to come to Knox County," he said.

He said he has never seen so many open positions, and said Knox County is competing with other East Tennessee counties to hire officers.

"They leave Knox County and go to a surrounding agency and start a job there, and I don't want to lose that individual," he said. "There is a challenge in Knox County and across this country right now with not only corrections but also law enforcement."

In Knox County, the starting salary for a correctional officer is around $39,471.55 per year. Other counties have raised that starting number to around $50,000 per year.

He said he believes Knox County should do the same.

"For the most part, people that come into this profession, it's a calling. But that calling also requires being able to pay for that calling as well," he said. 

To make up for the short staffing, correctional officers are working overtime. An eight-hour shift can easily turn into 16 hours, he said. He also said the long shifts can affect everyone in the jail.

"It puts not only the officer in danger, but it puts the inmates as well in danger," Sheriff Spangler said.

Since 2018, Sheriff Spangler said he has asked for a raise in officer salaries. His request is the same this year. He said he is working on the numbers to present to Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs as part of his budget request. 

The final number will depend on approval from the mayor and county commissioners.

KCSO also recently proposed lowering the minimum age of corrections officers to 18 years old, hoping to attract more applicants to the job.

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