During the 2022 General Session, the Legislature appropriated targeted salary increases for Corrections Officers ($39.5 million ongoing) and the Department of Public Safety’s Sworn Officers ($20.0 million ongoing and $10.0 million one-time) to address recruitment and retention issues within these agencies. These challenges resemble a recent pattern of difficulty in attracting and keeping law enforcement officers nationwide, which is compounded by stiff competition within various state and local law enforcement agencies.
With the newly appropriated funds, the Department of Corrections (DOC) averaged a 27% compensation increase for all corrections officers implemented in two separate phases. In March, DOC implemented the first phase of compensation increases, equating to a 14% average salary boost for correctional officers, with the combined goals of combating high turnover and vacancy rates, while also to becoming more competitive with local law enforcement agencies. Per recent legislative policy changes, DOC opened eligibility for 19- and 20-year-olds to become corrections officers. During the 2022 August interim, the Legislature approved DOC repurposing certain operational savings from the new prison to provide a second phase of salary increases, equaling about a 13% average bump in salaries for correctional officers. This second adjustment brought salaries into the top quartile for sworn officers in law enforcement agencies statewide. While DOC still reports high vacancies for officers and saw record-setting turnover in FY 2022, the department is seeing recent improvement due to increased funding. Since this most recent pay increase, monthly applicants to the Department increased to 134 in August, and 171 in September, up from lows of 61 in June and 58 in July. Additionally, officers leaving the agency dropped to 5 in August and 9 in September, down from a high of 21 in May.
The current vacancy rate still requires mandatory overtime from officers throughout state to provide the minimum level of staffing required to operate the new Utah State Correctional Facility. However, these two recent salary adjustments have helped slow both the vacancy and turnover rates, and the department projects this pattern will continue through the end of the year. Looking forward, DOC is focused on using a strategic approach to recruiting and retaining officers and is carefully considering what resources may be needed going forward.
Department of Public Safety Sworn Officers
The Department of Public Safety (DPS) used the one-time funding through the last quarter FY 2022 for retention incentives until ongoing compensation increases were fully implemented in FY 2023. New funding allowed DPS to increase the hourly rate for sworn officers from $22.35 – $33.00/hour to $30.00 – $43.00/hour. Prior to the change, DPS’ entry level (or lowest end of their salary range) was the 32nd highest in the state among competing law enforcement agencies. After the targeted salary increase, DPS now ranks 2nd highest for entry level salaries of sworn officers. Similarly, the top tier of the DPS salary is 3rd highest in the state among similar law enforcement positions.
DPS has seen improvement in both recruitment and retention for these positions after implementing this salary adjustment. DPS reports that they will have hired 60 new officers by the end of the calendar year, compared to just 32 officers in all of CY 2021. This represents an 82% increase on average over the previous two fiscal years. DPS also reports success in retention rates. Their projected number of employment separations for sworn officers in CY 2022 is 34, down 40% from 2021. While DPS is monitoring the impacts of outside factors on staffing (including actions by competing agencies and inflation), they are increasingly optimistic about their ability to attract and retain high quality talent for this key law enforcement function.