Hidalgo County officials worry the Department of Public Safety’s recruiting surge will poach the sheriff’s deputies who investigate major crimes, such as murders and aggravated robberies.
“That’s going to be detrimental to our county,” Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia said, “and we can’t really allow that to happen.”
In an attempt to secure the border, lawmakers have called for a proliferation of DPS troopers in the Rio Grande Valley. In the next four years, DPS will try to station 500 here — raising concerns from non-border lawmakers that the border might be secured at the expense of the rest of the state.
DPS Director Steve McCraw has said one goal is to hire locally so the troopers are invested in the community — “You look for quality people where they’re at,” he told a House committee on Feb. 26.
Hiring locally might also appease county sheriffs across Texas who worry their best guys are being poached, too.
But one thing could slow DPS recruiting — since Jan. 1, DPS has required its officers to work 50-hour weeks, according to the department’s local spokesman. It’s intended to get more bang for the department’s buck.
Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra said he’s heard concerns about that, especially from seasoned investigators accustomed to having weekends and holidays off. At DPS, they’d be patrolling, he said.
There’s not much precedent for deputies or police officers leaving their posts to don DPS uniforms, but Garcia said the increase in pay is hard to resist.
“It’s going to be very tough to compete with their salaries,” Garcia said. A deputy’s starting pay is about $37,000; DPS starts at about $57,000, he said.
“That $20,000 makes a very substantial difference. We’re going to have to figure out what we’re going to do to compete,” he said. “Hopefully not very many (leave).”
The Sheriff’s Office provides salary supplements based on education and certifications, and deputies’ pay increases as they achieve new ranks.
But, because of House Bill 11, legislation that representatives approved Thursday that throws a half-billion dollars toward border security, officers with at least four years of experience could join DPS at an increased pay grade.
Guerra said the Sheriff’s Office should resist being a “training ground for DPS.” He said he could envision a scenario where, every four years, his investigators leave for the state agency.
Guerra said the potential hiring spree was an opportunity to evaluate deputies’ pay scale, but he stressed the state needed to provide assistance — a point Garcia echoed.
“They’re the ones that are creating this issue,” the county judge said. “They need to help us.”