Durham County

Sheriff’s Office recruits now start their careers in jail before hitting the streets

If you want to become a Durham County’s Sheriff’s Office deputy, you have to go to jail first.

This year, the Durham Sheriff's Office has started requiring new candidates to begin employment in Detention Services.

In the past, the Sheriff's Office offered two positions with two separate career paths. There was the path of the non-sworn detention officers who oversee inmates at the county jail and the sworn path of becoming a deputy in the Sheriff’s Office.

Future deputies are now being hired as detention officer trainees, after which, upon completing training, they'll receive Basic Detention Officer Certification, becoming a certified detention officer.

Only after becoming a detention officer, will a person be considered for the Basic Law Enforcement Training needed for admittance into the sheriff's pool of deputies.

From now on, fresh-faced sheriff's deputies will be “duel-certified,” having obtained the credentials necessary for careers as both detention officers and deputies.

It's not as easy for the Sheriff's Office to attract applicants to apply for positions working as detention officers behind windowless prison walls, over deputies' jobs cruising in a patrol car with power windows.

But the now-mandatory duel certification process — start in jail, stick around, transition to the open road — has elevated the Sheriff's Office recruiting efforts.

“Since Dec. 31, our Training & Recruitment Division has received 248 applicants. This is a significant increase from years past,” Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Tamara Gibbs said. “Starting Feb. 1, 2017 the Sheriff’s Office gave uncertified applicants the chance to obtain their certification for both Detention and Law Enforcement (dual certification). Since then, the number of applicants has remained high and steady with more than 100 applicants participating in the current process.”

Lt. E.W. Carpenter of the Sheriff's Recruitment/Training units said that once new employees become detention officers, they should plan on staying a detention officer for a few years. He said the Sheriff's Office will work to supply Basic Law Enforcement Training and deputy certification to detention officers within their first three years of employment.

“It's really the need of the Sheriff at the time,” Carpenter said. “But in general, it will take three years to finish both.”

New deputies that have already spent several years working as detention officers, gaining experience in the field of law enforcement, are instantly much better and more prepared to be deputies, Carpenter said, their decision-making skills are better and they communicate more effectively with the public and over the radio with their colleagues.

The Sheriff's Office has also given veteran deputies and detention officers the opportunity to earn dual certification in detention services and law enforcement, said Lt. Alicia McKinney with the Sheriff's Basic Detention Officer Training unit. For example, Staff Sgt. R. Taylor spent 14 years as a detention officer before earning dual certification as a deputy last February.

Taylor is now not only certified as a deputy and detention officer but as a physical training instructor.

“She's a triple threat,” Gibbs said raising her arms and performing “jazz hands.”

'''Beyoncé Formation,'” McKinney announced, prompting she and Gibbs into a dance routine mimicking moves from one of the singer's music videos.

Taylor did not dance but did say, “I literally put on the same pants in the morning as a deputy” as she did “as a detention officer.”

“I feel the same pride in my heart,” Taylor said about working each of her dual roles.

Taylor said it's equally honorable to help those imprisoned inside the Durham County jail as it is to patrol the streets in a sheriff’s cruiser.

Each Sheriff’s Office applicant must pass a physical abilities test .

Because of the new dual certification process, the Detention Officers Physical Abilities Test (DOPAT) and the Police Officers Physical Abilities Test (POPAT) — previously necessary for wannabe cops and Sheriff's deputies alike — into a single test, the Sheriff's Office Physical Abilities Test or “SOPAT” for short, said Sgt. Len Roberts of the Sheriff's Basic Law Enforcement Training unit.

Each applicant must run 140 feet, jump onto and, by straddling, latch onto a 100-pound elongated bag, roll to the right until the bag is over the body, continue rolling in the same direction until the body is back on top of the bag, reverse their rolling direction, roll back to the starting position, repeat the roll routine three times, unlatch from the bag, perform 10 push-ups, “dig deep,” hustle over to a 165-pound dummy, pick it up, listen to yelling — “Lift with your legs!” — drag the dummy 40 feet, drop the dummy, run to a “step box,” perform 30 “up, downs” on the step box, run back to the bag, latch back on, perform three additional roll reps, unlatch, run another 140 feet and repeat a phrase that they were told to remember before they began the test back to their instructor.

This must be completed within four minutes and 30 seconds.

Colin Warren-Hicks: 919-419-6636, @CWarrenHicks