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Johnson County Sheriff Says Hiring More Deputies Is 'No. 1 Priority'

Luke X. Martin
KCUR 89.3
Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden says his office is suffering a shortage of uniformed deputies. "The solution to this whole thing is getting officers in the door while not dropping your quality," he says.

If you're looking for a public-service job in law enforcement, the Johnson County Sheriff's Office wants to talk to you.

That's according to Sheriff Calvin Hayden, who says his department is a long way from where they need to be staffed — 50 uniformed deputies short, to be exact.

"That's our huge issue right now," he says. "Recruiting is our No. 1 priority for this year."

Hayden, who took office in January, attributed the deficiency to the increased criticism law enforcers are receiving.

He spoke with KCUR's Up To Date host, Steve Kraske, on Thursday.

"A decision you make in a few seconds will be scrutinized and analyzed for months and years, and sometimes by a jury," he says. "That's not a real fun way to live your life."

His office has taken to recruiting far and wide to find qualified recruits, from Colorado to Minnesota. Closer to home, the Johnson County Sheriff's Office hires some "civilian specialists" right out of high school, the sheriff says, with the hope that they'll make a career out of law enforcement.

"We'll pay for their college to get them in," he says. "We've streamlined our hiring process."

The problem is not limited to his jurisdiction, Hayden says, and it has a negative effect on deputies and officers.

"It's hard on you physically and mentally," Hayden says. "It's a drain on our officers and we're trying to eliminate that."

Hayden says, the same day he was sworn in, county commissioners showed him a $750,000 bill that needed to be paid in overtime expense.

"That's not fair to the taxpayers , it's not fair to our officers, it's not fair to anybody," he says.

As for improving public perception of his officers, Hayden says law enforcement officials sometimes bring problems on themselves by not hiring recruits who reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

"This whole job is about relationships," he says. "If your stakeholders don't trust you, you're going to have issues."

2016 was a tough year for the Johnson County Sheriff's Office. In September, Master Deputy Brandon Collins was killed during a traffic stop when he was struck by a drunken driver. His was just the third line-of-duty death in the department's history.

Credit Johnson County Sheriff's Office
Brady Newman-Caddell (left) and William Luth have been charged with the sexual assault of a Johnson County Sheriff's deputy.

A month later, a deputy was kidnapped from the parking lot of the county jail and raped. She was later released in Lee's Summit by the suspects, who are set to make their next court appearance on March 29. Both incidents happened under the command of Hayden's predecessor, Sheriff Frank Denning, who did not run for re-election.

Establishing normalcy to the department has been a lot of work, but Hayden says his officers have responded well.

"The sheriff's office is a family," says Hayden. "When you're dealing with someone that you know and love it makes it very difficult to recover and go back and do the same thing the next night."

You can listen to the sheriff's entire conversation with Steve Kraske here.

Luke X. Martin is a freelance contributor for KCUR 89.3 and an associate producer for 'Up To Date.' Contact him at luke@kcur.org.

The Kansas City region has long been a place where different ways of life collide. I tell the stories of people living and working where race, culture and ethnicity intersect. I examine racial equity and disparity, highlight the area's ethnic groups and communities of color, and invite all of Kansas City to explore meaningful ways to bond with and embrace cultures different from their own. Email me at luke@kcur.org.