A new Texas law will pump $330 million into rural law enforcement agencies that struggle to recruit and retain officers, the Texas Tribune reports. Senate Bill 22, sponsored by Republican Sen. Drew Springer, established a grant system geared to county population that can be used to raise minimum salaries and purchase new equipment. Before a county can use the money on gear, however, it must meet the minimum pay requirements for select law enforcement roles. Sheriffs must earn $75,000, deputies $45,000, and jailers $40,000. The law also puts aside funds for prosecutors' offices that are decided by the size of the jurisdiction.
The rise in compensation could go a long way for departments that are struggling with hiring and retaining staff because it can make them competitive with other agencies, Gillespie County Sheriff Buddy Mills said. “I think it’s one of the best bills to come out of Austin in a long time,” said Sheriff Andrew Aguilar in West Texas' Crane County. He covers a county of 5,000 residents spread over 785 square miles with four deputies, two supervisors, and one chief. Sheriffs across the nation have struggled to keep their rank-and-file filled, a 2022 report by the U.S. Department of Justice found. The number of officers has remained stagnant in the last three decades. Sheriffs departments have tried filling that gap with civilians who perform administrative duties but don't make arrests. Rural areas don’t have much choice. Smaller Texas counties rely on a much smaller tax base to fund their coffers, ultimately yielding only a fraction of what bigger cities boast. “It’s not that they don’t want to pay them. They just don’t have the means to do it,” Springer said.