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Demand grows for off-duty officers to work special events

haywoodThe rising tide of triathlons, foot races and cycling events in Haywood County is stretching the capacity of spare deputies to provide security on the long-distance routes without a better pay incentive.

“They are big events and intensive events. They are definitely increasing the request on our manpower,” said Sgt. Heidi Warren, a spokesperson for the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office.

The Lake Logan Multisport Festival asked for 17 deputies this weekend to help with crowds and traffic control — more than 2,000 racers and spectators are expected.

But as of Monday, Sheriff Greg Christopher hadn’t recruited enough officers to pick up extra weekend shifts. 

“There is no way I can get 17 deputies to do what needs to be done,” Christopher said. 

August holds an onslaught of outdoor events. There’s the Blue Ridge Breakaway bike ride, traversing 100 miles of county roads with deputies stationed along the way. Plus the Main Street Mile, Maggie Moonlight Race and Mud Run — which will tap police departments for officers-for-hire.

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Aside from Haywood’s growing reputation as a venue for outdoor races, there’s been an across-the-board increase in special events of all sorts.

“There are a lot of festivals. There are a lot of fundraisers. There are a lot of church activities,” Warren said. “All categories of special events have increased.”

Events are billed for the service. Each officer-for-hire costs $35 per hour, which covers the cost of gas and vehicle use as well.

“They are willing to pay. It does not cost the taxpayers anything,” Christopher said. 

But the problem lies with how the officers themselves are reimbursed.

Until now, deputies were paid only their regular hourly rate for working special events — so their take-home pay could be as little as $40 for picking up an extra half-day shift.

“It was becoming difficult to find more and more officers willing to come out on their day off, away from their families and personal time, to work for straight pay,” Warren explained.

This week, the sheriff’s office changed the way officers will be reimbursed for working special events. Instead of their regularly hourly rate, they’re guaranteed to clear a flat $25 an hour.

The rate billed to events will be the same as before — $35 an hour — but the incentive passed along to officers will now be more enticing, especially for lower-paid entry-level deputies. Pay for special events will no longer vary based on pay scale.

“This way, all officers are paid equally for their special assignment work,” Warren said.

Waynesville Police Chief Bill Hollingsed said there is no plan to change how his officers are compensated for working special events. They get their normal hourly rate, but so far, they haven’t had trouble meeting demand for officers-for-hire. 

Waynesville police are the go-to force for special events in the town limits — like the Waynesville Craft Beer Faire happening next weekend — but they occasionally pitch in around the county if the sheriff’s office can’t cover the request. For example, Waynesville officers have been handling traffic control on Interstate 40 due to roadwork in the Pigeon River Gorge, with the state highway department picking up the reimbursement, Hollingsed said.

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