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Richmond Sheriff candidate blames morale, not money, for staffing shortage

Posted at 5:12 PM, May 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-26 17:40:56-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Businesses and local governments continue to struggle with finding workers to fill vacant jobs amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The Richmond Sheriff’s Office has reported more than 100 open positions at the Richmond Justice Center.

Officials at the Justice Center said they hoped pay increases in July would help retain and attract officers.

William Burnett, a veteran local law enforcement officer seeking the Democratic nomination for Richmond Sheriff, met with CBS 6 to address his plan to tackle the staffing shortage.

“There’s no silver bullet, there’s no magic potion to fix the problem,” Burnett said.

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Burnett said the solutions he saw related to morale more than money.

The Sheriff’s Office reported that despite nearly 300 new hires in recent years, slightly more have left the department either through resignation, retirement, or removal.

“In 2006, under the CT Woody administration when I served as Lt. Colonel, we were always underfunded. In my 28 years in law enforcement experience, we were always underfunded,” Burnett said. “If there are no standards in place, there’s no opportunity for growth and people feel that the place is a loss, then you’re going to have mass exodus leaving that organization.”

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Burnett said he based his perspective on the issue from two moments in his law enforcement career. He said a survey of officers when he worked at the Richmond Police Department found a majority prioritized fairness and respect on the job over money when it came to their well-being at work.

Second, in the mid-2000s serving in a leadership role at the city jail, Burnett said they shifted scheduling for employees to give them more time off between shifts and more family time at home.

“Our assaults in the jail started to plummet; our deputies started coming to work; we never really had a staffing issue," he said. "I’m saying putting little tiny things in place will make a world of a difference, and it has nothing to do with money."

CBS 6 asked Burnett how deputies at the Justice Center gauge morale within the department.

“The biggest piece is it’s safe when you know you’re coming to work and you’re leaving going home in the same condition you came. That’s number one,” he said.

You can read the initial CBS 6 report on staffing shortages at the Richmond Justice Center here.