DURHAM, NC – Nearly one-third of the detention officer positions at the Durham County Detention Center are vacant and Sheriff Clarence Birkhead is hoping an expansion of their training program at Durham Technical Community College can help them fill these holes by the end of the year.

According to data from the Durham County Sheriff’s Office, 73 out of their 224 detention officer positions are vacant and 21 out of the department’s 221 deputy positions are also open. 

Sheriff Birkhead has previously said that a labor shortage and low pay are two reasons for the shortage of detention officers, but he said it’s also a tough gig. 

“You have to be dedicated to caring for people who are less fortunate, those who have broken the law and those suffering from mental health issues,” Birkhead said. 

But he said the Durham County Sheriff’s Office is partnering with Durham Technical Community College to expand their training program for deputies and detention officers. 

Through the partnership, Durham Tech is allowing the sheriff’s office to use space at the Northern Durham Center on Snow Hill Road for training. 

“Here we have just so much more classroom space and so much more training space,” Birkhead said. 

Birkhead said this allows them to hold basic law enforcement training academies (BLET) and basic detention officer training academies (BDOT) simultaneously. 

“Right now we’re experiencing a severe shortage and it is critical for us to be able to train as many cadets as possible,” Birkhead said. 

Birkhead said they can train 10-20 cadets at a time and they will be able to hold more 6-week training academies throughout the year for detention officers.

“Our goal is to try to fill these vacancies within this year so that we can really get back to doing the business of the people without taxing our current staff,” Birkhead said. 

Birkhead said right now all sworn employees with the Durham County Sheriff’s Office are required to work at least one shift at the jail per month to make up for their shortage of detention officers. 

“We’re in this together,” Birkhead said. “Everyone has stepped up and are helping us address these vacancies.” 

CBS 17 asked Birkhead if expanding the training for detention officers will be enough to fill the 70-plus vacancies or if increasing pay is needed as well. 

Birkhead told CBS 17 that the starting pay for detention officers in Durham is $40,523.

This is higher than Sampson County ($32,892), Nash County ($34,896), Cumberland County ($37,746) and Wake County ($39,900), but not as high as Johnston County that pays their detention officers $42,286. 

Birkhead said he has asked Durham County Commissioners to conduct a comprehensive salary study to see if a raise for deputies and detention officers is possible. 

“We just have to make it more attractive for those folks to come and work for us,” Birkhead said. “Again, that’s going to be salary benefits and opportunities for professional development.” 

He said Durham County has approved a $6,000 sign-on bonus for entry-level deputy sheriff, detention officer, and telecommunicator positions.  

Birkhead said he has also asked for a bonus for current employees with the sheriff’s office as well. 

“I want to recognize those folks who have been with us for years,” Birkhead said.  

Nicholas Bevilacqua is currently in DCSO’s training academy, and he moved to Durham from Rhode Island to accept a position at the Durham County Sheriff’s Office. 

“It was something I was born into, I have family that’s in law enforcement, and ever since I was in high school too, I just always wanted to be a cop,” Bevilacqua said. “I saw all they had to offer, between all the different units and that’s one of the reasons I chose this department.” 

He said he’s glad to step in and try to help fill the vacancies in Durham, and he’s hoping others will do the same thing. 

“If you’re willing to do those things every day that officers do to put their lives on the line, it’s definitely a rewarding career,” Bevilacqua said. “We’re very short-staffed, if you want to make a difference, please apply.” 

Durham County is not alone in experiencing a shortage of detention officers. 

CBS 17 also found that 96 out of Wake County’s 357 detention officer positions are vacant, which means they are looking to fill about a quarter of their positions. 

In Cumberland County, 78 of their 189 detention officer positions are vacant, meaning 41 percent of their positions are open. 

In Nash and Sampson Counties, sheriff officials tell us 21-22 percent of their detention officer positions are vacant.