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Sheriff Sandage says pay, anti-police sentiments and reforms have made it harder to hire new cops

Ryan Denham
WGLT file
McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage says anti-police sentiment is a big reason why it's harder to recruit and retain more officers.

McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage says he hopes the new contract providing better pay for sheriff's deputies will reduce turnover in his department.

Sandage said the sheriff's office is short 10 deputies and has 43 on staff. He said at least six officers have left in recent years to work for better-paying departments in Bloomington and Normal, while others have found work in the private sector.

“With Rivian, with State Farm, there’s plenty of jobs out there, and for someone who’s not really sold on being a police officer and doesn’t really want to work overnight with Tuesdays and Wednesdays off, it’s a tough sell,” Sandage said on WGLT's Sound Ideas.

The new contract, which the McLean County Board approved last week after more than 15 months of negotiations, pushes minimum base salary above $60,000. It also enhances the pay scale for new hires who bring experience from other departments.

Sandage said while the sheriff’s office still can’t match the salaries offered by police departments in Bloomington and Normal, he said the county touts a better retirement package and what he described as a better work environment.

Sandage said the officer shortage has strained staffing as more deputies have had to take additional overtime shifts. He said the department has not been able to serve areas as proactively as he would like, especially when many rural police forces also are short staffed. He said the department also has considered moving to 12-hour shifts.

Anti-police sentiment

Many police departments have struggled to fill vacancies in recent years. Recently, police administrations in Bloomington and Normal have undergone wholesale changes, too. Sandage, who is not seeking re-election as he concludes his second term in office this year, said anti-police sentiment across the country and safety concerns have prompted some cops to leave the profession.

Sandage said some officers don't feel valued, even by a number of county board members. “When you have people that are trying to make their job more difficult and are more pro-criminal than pro-police, it’s difficult for them,” Sandage said.

Democrats on the county board have fought publicly with Sandage over fees inmates pay for video conferencing and the use of tablets. They have argued the county should not be profiting from the technology at inmates' expense.

After the board delayed a vote about a renegotiated contract for the tablets, Sandage removed them from the jail. He later gave the devices back to the inmates, re-implemented the fees and said the contract did not require county board approval — and that he only sought their input as a courtesy.

Democrats on the board said they wished Sandage took a more collaborative approach with the board. Sandage said several board members have ignored his offer to tour the jail.

Sandage added the recent criminal justice reform bill in Illinois has also make it harder to hire officers. That measure requires police use body cameras and it limits their use of force.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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