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'You're putting our lives on the line': Low pay pushes deputies out of Ripley County, residents blame leaders

Ripley County Sheriff's Deputies make around $45k a year for the first three years on the job.
Ripley County Sheriff's Deputy cruiser
Posted at 6:21 AM, Mar 21, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-21 09:49:23-04

RIPLEY COUNTY, Ind. — The Ripley County Sheriff's Office will be down by nearly half its force by June and both the Sheriff and residents are blaming inadequate salaries for pushing deputies out of the community.

Fear and uncertainty weighed heavily on many who attended Monday's county council meeting.

Dozens packed the room, filling seats and even standing by the doors, as Sheriff Rob Bradley put his dwindling force into focus.

"Realize, you're putting our lives on the line," one man said.

RCSO deputies are responsible for covering 440 square miles and more than 30,000 residents.

He told the board his force should be 12 deputies strong to ensure 24 hours patrols with at least two deputies per shift, as per state standard. There are currently eight deputies, but Bradley will lose two more by the summer.

Bradley said this could result in between 4 and 10 hours a day in which no deputies are on patrol in Ripley County.

​ "In June we anticipate losing one to the Indiana State Police which would leave us with 6 qualified patrol officers to finish the year out," he said.

Bradley said the root of the problem is a "wide disparagement in law enforcement salaries." Base salary for his deputies is currently $45,074.00, whether they're trainees or three years on the job because RCSO does not have a pay matrix or longevity.

He compared his department's pay to neighboring sheriff's offices and police departments, all of which pay more than RCSO and offer raises after one year.

“We simply cannot compete when a 20-year veteran deputy in this Office makes less than a fresh recruit at a local police department,” said Sheriff Rob Bradley in a news release posted on Facebook earlier this month. “My top priority is public safety, and I need deputies to get the job done.”

He also noted the significant gap in pay between RCSO and Indiana State Police. ISP will soon start trainee troopers at $68,000.

Bradley said his department can't compete with that. One of his soon-to-leave deputies sat in on the meeting and explained why he's trading in his RCSO badge for an ISP Trooper hat.

"Even if I did have to relocate, I mean it's a $21,000 increase a year," he said to the board. "I think a lot of people, I mean it's -- it's a no brainer for me."

In his Facebook post earlier this month, Bradley noted several of the deputies who left recently for better-paying opportunities:

"In the last six months, we lost a deputy to the Indiana Gaming Commission, he received a $27,000 pay increase. We have lost two deputies, including our K-9 handler, to Batesville PD, where they each received an $11,000 pay increase. We lost a new deputy hire this month to Greensburg PD, over $8000 in salary, benefits, and promotional opportunities."

"Who's going to be the ones out there on the street carrying guns protecting people when all of our police officers are gone?" one woman asked the board.

The county board is responsible for setting the budget and employee salaries. Bradley said the board has long ignored the need to raise deputy pay and called on members to raise it.

He's asking for a 41% salary increase, which would bring starting salaries level with ISP. He believes that will entice more people to apply and perhaps even be enough to retain current deputies.

But council members said that can't happen, at least not in the short term.

However, RCSO will be getting a 5% pay increase starting January 2024 along with every other Ripley County employee. County Council approved that raise last year.

Bradley pointed out that the board is considering using $3.5 million from unrestricted funds on renovations for the Old Courthouse, asking why that money couldn't instead be put towards his department.

Councilman Ron Decker said that money can only be used once and will eventually disappear so it can't be used for long-term funding.

"I'm not saying that you guys don't deserve a raise. I'm not saying that the people in this county don't deserve a raise. I know it's tough. I own a company. It's tough finding help. When you find help, it's tough keeping help," Ron Decker said. "We understand where you're coming from. We're working on it."

The board said if they were to implement a specific raise solely for the sheriff's office, they would have to get approval from the state first. When asked for a timeline on that kind of request, they did not have an answer.

Councilman Andrew Decker said he and the rest of the board are looking down different avenues to get deputies a bigger raise, but they're unsure how to without jeopardizing "equality."

"It is hard to make equality when one facet of the county comes in asking for such a large raise," Andrew Decker said.

But community members at Monday's meeting argued that point, saying those who wear the badge should make more.

"Why should an auditor make more money than a police officer who puts their life on the line every day? You said that. You compared them to an auditor," one woman said to Andrew Decker.

He replied to her saying, "Equality. It's not the same thing."

"It's not. You're exactly right. It's nothing the same," she said.

Council members discussed the possibility of imposing a safety tax for those who live in the county. All but 20 of Indiana's counties have a safety tax.

That tax could be capped at 2.5% with the money funding emergency services, such as the sheriff's office, fire, EMS and 911 dispatch. The county would get 70% of the revenue with another 20% going to Batesville and the remaining 10% to be dispersed among the rest of the towns.

Council even decided to move forward with a possible wage survey at Monday's meeting. Some council members said they will reach out to outside companies for estimates on how much a survey would be. If the survey does happen, it would cost the county money, which many in attendance, including Bradley found issue with.

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