Driving home after his third consecutive day working a 16-hour shift, a Clark County corrections deputy caught himself worrying whether he should be behind the wheel.
He’d notice himself driving poorly after such long shifts, even sometimes drifting into the highway shoulder. The deputy said he worries that exhaustion affects his work when he’s supposed to be guarding and tending to inmates at the Clark County Jail.
“It’s not safe,” said the deputy, who agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity. The deputy has worked at the jail for more than a decade and is among many who have clocked at least 100 hours of mandatory overtime this year.
“It catches up to you – mentally, psychologically,” he said. “It affects your family. It affects how you perform at work, you know? It comes with the job... but not at this level.”
Arduous shifts are becoming more common at the jail, according to multiple corrections deputies interviewed by OPB, raising tensions between the boots-on-the-ground jail staff and command staff at the sheriff’s office.
Deputies specifically cited a spike in mandatory overtime hours this year as the biggest reason why they were glad to learn county administrators are seizing the jail from the sheriff’s authority. The Clark County Council on Sept. 21 voted unanimously to move it under a newly created Jail Services Department.
“My first reaction was having a little bit of hope,” said Cindy Sardo, an 18-year corrections staffer whose found her mandatory overtime hours climbing in recent years. “I hope their success rate will go up, as far as finding quality candidates and more of them.”
OPB spoke with six deputies at the county jail about the takeover, which came abruptly this month amid an extended staffing crisis at the jail. Most deputies declined to provide their names, they said, because they feared county administrators, the sheriff’s office or the Clark County Corrections Deputies Guild would not want them discussing the jail with news media.
The deputies generally welcomed the takeover, but also said they’re staying cautious until they see changes. Among their main concerns are staffing and the jail facilities.
“It seems like every quote-unquote upgrade they’ve done takes forever, and once it’s fixed it’s really not fixed,” said the veteran deputy who recently got off three consecutive 16-hour shifts. “It’s falling apart around us.”
Cindi Morrow, a corrections deputy for 23 years, called the current staffing levels not just exhausting but dangerous. Morrow stressed that mandatory overtime – of which she’s worked 84 hours this year – is a direct order by her bosses to stay hours later than usual, often on consecutive days.
Before this year, Morrow said, the most mandatory overtime hours she had worked in a single year was an “astronomical” 54 hours.
“We have day shift over 100 hours, and there’s still three months left in the year. I didn’t think that would ever happen,” Morrow said. “We’re like frogs in water. We’re starting to become numb to how bad it is.”
According to jail officials, there are currently 24 unfilled job openings. The sheriff’s office has publicly blamed the shortfall on what they say is in an inability to pay competitive wages and a growing disinterest in law enforcement as a career.
About 147 corrections deputies and sergeants work at the Clark County Jail currently. Twenty-three deputies have left the jail since 2019, according to county data. Seven of those departures were retirements, two were fired. The remaining 14 left either for a new job, moving out of state, going back to school or another reason.
Meanwhile, the jail is housing more inmates than recommended. The jail population has averaged about 427 inmates over the past years, while the recommended populace is 350, according to county officials.
Still, county officials have not publicly clarified what led them to take over the jail. At the Sept. 21 meeting, County Manager Kathleen Otto stressed to the public that transitioning the jail would be a long, public process.
Five days later, Otto made three hires to run the new department. No public notice had been made prior. Two of the hires currently work at the jail, while the third was a deputy and former sheriff candidate, David Shook. He resigned from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office to take the county position, and his salary is poised to jump from $99,503 to $134,316, county officials told OPB this week.
Deputies expressed cautious optimism about the announcement. However, they also said they were confused why the process wasn’t more transparent.
“I appreciate them moving quickly on it, I guess,” said one deputy, who noted he never saw any job postings. “I was just kind of surprised about how quick it was and seemingly out-of-thin-air it was. Obviously, they’ve been doing some work prior to this.”
Tim McCray, a deputy with 20 years in the agency who clocked more than 50 hours of overtime this year, said he thought the announcement set the relationship off on the wrong foot.
“Communication is paramount on us being successful. They looked at the line staff and said, ‘They don’t need to know that.’ But yes, we do,” McCray said. “The only way they are going to fix that is by sitting down. They have to explain what their intention is, so it quells everything and puts people at ease.”
Sardo, who maintained she is “hopeful” about the transition, pointed out that the new department may still run into the same challenges the sheriff’s office did. She said she worried there are just fewer candidates seeking law enforcement careers.