BURLEY • Idaho isn’t entirely buffered from national trends as police brutality is examined, racial tensions mount and cops are shot at an alarming rate.
“Even though we are in Idaho, we still feel the tension because it is a national trend,” said George Warrell, Cassia County undersheriff, an officer of 26 years. “We are right on the interstate, and we deal with a lot of people who are not from Cassia County.”
Mini-Cassia officials wonder how much the nation’s anti-cop sentiment contributes to a decline in the number of people interested in the career across Idaho.
“If you can make more money doing something else for a living, why would you want to live in a glass house?” Warrell said.
Social profiling boils down to training and what is tolerated within a department, Minidoka County Sheriff Eric Snarr said, and it is simply “not fair” for cops to socially profile.
“It affects law enforcement across this nation,” he said.
The public’s perception of cops is not what it once was, Warrell said. More people used to hold police in high esteem.
Warrell, who came from a family of cops, always knew he wanted to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps. His grandfather was Burley’s chief of police, and his grandfather’s brother was the county sheriff.
“Growing up I thought the world of my grandfather, and I always knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Warrell said.
But he understands the struggle for some who are considering the profession.
Fewer new officers certified in the past few years means agencies have to work harder to recruit and retain them.
Minidoka County commissioners created a new patrol position for the sheriff’s department in October. During the first round of applications, only two certified officers applied, and one of those took a job in Twin Falls for higher pay. Snarr just filled the position this month.
Smaller communities that pay lower wages are at a disadvantage recruiting and retaining officers, which represents a sizable investment once they are fully trained.
Minidoka County even struggles when neighboring counties raise their pay rates, Snarr said.
For Warrell, keeping up morale is instrumental to keeping good officers.
“We are always trying to address that and keep it as high as we can because it affects the turnover rate. We want to keep our veteran officers here,” he said.
“There’s no magic formula,” Warrell said. The sheriff’s administration works to create a “family unit” within the department so everyone works together toward common goals. Committees consisting of officers weigh in regarding promotions when the department hires new employees, so officers feel like they are a part of the decision making.
While hiring patrol officers is difficult, Warrell said, hiring at the jail is even harder.
“It is a very rough environment. You come in to work and deal with very violent people. And they don’t like law enforcement to begin with; it’s tough,” Warrell said. One Cassia jail officer has been assaulted twice in a month.
Those stresses come with low pay, he said, and that makes officer retention difficult.
Heyburn Police Chief Dan Bristol, who has been a police officer for 22 years, said his department has not struggled recruiting officers because it tends to hire out of a strong reserve officer pool.
The department requires that reserves have at least a Level II certification, which allows Bristol to put them to work more. That keeps up their interest, he said, and provides a ready pool of potential employees when a position opens.
Warrell said the technology used in law enforcement is usually a draw for new recruits.
He remembers the first dash cameras from the 1990s.
“They were a full-size video cassette recorder with suction cups that attached to the glass,” Warrell said. “Once during a pursuit I hit the railroad tracks and the camera moved clear up to the top of the glass. You could hear me talking, but you could only see the ceiling on my car.”
When Bristol started his career as a police officer, his computer had no copy-and-paste function, so it took an hour or two to write a report. He used stencils to draw out crash diagrams.
Things have changed a lot since those days, Warrell said, and the changes for the most part are good ones the younger generation will likely find attractive.