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Union Representing Delaware Correctional Officers Raises Staffing Concerns

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DOVER, Del.- A union representing Delaware's correctional officers says understaffing is causing burnout that is leading to officers leaving early in their careers and salaries for many of them are not competitive with local law enforcement.

Geoff Klopp, head of the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware, claims officers are overworked because they are working overtime so frequently and dozens of positions remain unfilled within the department. 
"Thirty-five percent of your staffing being overtime is not safe and it stresses your officers and inmates out," he said.

Outgoing Department of Correction Commissioner Robert Coupe was not available for comment on Tuesday, though Chelsea Hicks, an agency spokeswoman, said in an email message that Delaware's correctional facilities are safe, though she did acknowledge there are some staffing challenges.

"The DOC consistently faces Correctional Officer monthly attrition rates between 9 and 11 officers separating per month over the past 6 years," she said, noting that periodic academies have brought in as many 42 new officers in a class.

Klopp said officers are also being paid salaries that start at $32,000, an amount he believes is less competitive than jobs like hospital constables in New Castle County and police positions in many of Delaware's towns.

"We're nowhere close to being competitive with other law enforcement agencies in the state of Delaware or our surrounding states with our salary or our retirement program," he said.

However, Hicks said an entry-level officer makes roughly $35,000 with hazard pay and that is more than or comparable to agencies like the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

The department recently had a $20 million budget for overtime expenditures.

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