Meade County has been having trouble recruiting and retaining law enforcement workers. As with most of South Dakota’s workforce shortages, the solution to Meade County’s struggle to find workers is simple: raise wages to make the work worth qualified workers’ time.
But like too many other South Dakota policymakers, Meade County Sheriff Ron Merwin ignores that obvious if difficult market-minded solution and insists the problem isn’t his responsibility. In a forum for sheriff candidates last week, Merwin responded to challenger Pat West’s suggestion that the county apply for grants to increase funding by saying grants are a waste of time, the county doesn’t need to change, and workers just need to get off their lazy butts and get back to work:
I wish it was that easy that all we could do is throw money at it, but I don’t think that’s the case. Honestly, Meade County has tried grants in the past and we’ve had our rug pulled out from underneath of us several times. So, I don’t apply for grants too often unless it’s a one- time only grant for equipment or something of that nature. Like I said, every grant I’ve ever applied for in the past that we’ve gotten has come with all kinds of reporting necessities involved and it almost takes a whole other personnel just to do all the reporting and all the federal paperwork to manage the grant. So, in my opinion grants are not the answer. In my opinion it’s what we’re doing. The people that are leaving are not leaving because they’re disgruntled, they’re not leaving because they’re unhappy. They’re leaving because they’re getting better jobs hours wise. I’ve had four leave in the last week and every one of them will tell you that they left because it’s day shift Monday through Friday. It’s just darn tough to hire people that wanna work nights, weekends, holidays – all those things that people don’t like to work right now. COVID hurt us really bad in that aspect. People got used to staying at home and getting paid and we gotta get over that hump and we gotta get people back to work and back to willing to do the job. I think we’re going to get there. I think we just do what we’ve been and eventually people will start applying. We’re trying to hire good quality personnel that they’re proud of the job they’re doing and they’re doing a good job. So, in my opinion will keep trying to do what we’re doing and hopefully continue to get good applicants [Sheriff Ron Merwin, in Deb Holland, “Meade County Sheriff Candidates Face Off at Forum,” Black Hills Pioneer, 2022.04.30].
Meade County definitely faces challenges in finding good people who want to work long and irregular hours in a sprawling county with lots of driving and isolated communities. The sheriff can’t shorten the road between Sturgis and Faith. The sheriff can’t convince drunks and other knuckleheads to only disturb the peace between 8 and 5 on weekdays.
But the sheriff can take a hard look at the needs of the county and his workers, prepare a realistic budget, and say to the county, “We need X more dollars to raise wages and hire more staff so everybody can work productively and sustainably, afford a nice house, and have time to enjoy that house and the Hills with their families and friends. I’ll apply for grants, but you need to raise taxes and pay full freight for the services this county needs.”