AKRON, Ohio — Summit County Sheriff Steve Barry wishes he had more people in the deputy pipeline like Alex Stahl. The 24-year-old man from Green has nearly completed the University of Akron/Summit County Sheriff's Office Police Academy. He expects to be sworn in as a deputy in January and begin his law enforcement career working in the Summit County Jail.
"I have a bunch of family in law enforcement and in the military so it's a very good fit for me," Stahl said. "I think it's gonna be a great experience. It's gonna give me the chance to learn how people are going to react to me in the jail and then I can use the experience when I get out on the road eventually one day."
Finding new deputies has been very difficult, Barry said. Right now, there are 410 Summit County deputies-- most of them working in the jail-- but 23 openings.
"We're having a very hard time recruiting qualified candidates which is a nationwide problem," Barry said.
The struggle continues even though Summit County is now offering scholarships, worth about $5,000, to pay for recruits tuition and uniforms. The incentives were announced earlier this year as a way to draw people to the job.
"We had over 200 respond and we're coming out with approximately eight total," Barry said.
Barry said there are many reasons for the shortage, including a high number of retirements. Thirty-two deputies have retired in the past 10 months.
Barry said other factors for the shortfall are the intense scrutiny of the job, some going for more money in the cybersecurity field and others who don't want to start their law enforcement career working in the jail.
"They come in here and they say, 'This just isn't for me. I want be out in a cruiser going after the bad guys. It's a little more exciting.'"
With more than 700 inmates currently in the jail, and the deputy shortfall, Barry said he's forced to require mandatory overtime several days a week and that can lead to burnout, morale problems and possible safety concerns.
"The tension becomes very very rigid to an unsafe aspect where assaults starts to climb, inmate on inmate and inmate on staff."
The sheriff is hoping to fill openings by expanding recruiting efforts throughout Ohio and by emphasizing the free academy tuition for recruits.
Another 30 recruits will start the academy in January, but graduates are not required to work for the Summit County Sheriff's Office. They can apply to other police departments.
As for Stahl, he's already sold on working for the county and is anxious to serve and protect.
"If people do their research on it, they'll find that it's a great working environment, great benefits for the future."