GULFPORT -- A Harrison County grand jury wants the Board of Supervisors to increase deputies' pay and start setting aside money to build a new detention center for juveniles.
The recommendations are among those made by the latest-serving grand jury in the Gulfport division of Harrison County Circuit Court.
Grand jury recommendations to increase deputies' pay had become rare in recent years. In a report filed Tuesday, the grand jury said it recommends the increase "to be competitive with other local law enforcement agencies."
Sheriff Troy Peterson has been pushing for a pay raise since he took office in January. A study compiled by his transition team and verified by the Sun Herald shows Harrison County's deputies are among the county's lowest paid law enforcement officers.
Deputies' starting pay after academy training is $32,000 as of December, when county supervisors gave all county employees a small pay raise.
Biloxi's new patrol officers make just above $36,000 a year while Gulfport's earn about $34,000 annually.
Peterson has said a 6.5 percent increase is necessary to give deputies an incentive to stay. Otherwise, he said, they will continue to leave for jobs with higher-paying agencies while the county loses its $4,500 training investment per officer.
The grand jury also recommends safety and environmental improvements at the county jail, including work on ventilation systems, keypads and cameras, and said the jail should maintain a policy of separating inmates with mental conditions from other detainees.
The report said county supervisors should visit the juvenile detention center and make funding to build a new center "a priority" to reduce transportation costs and reduce liabilities. Until a new one is built, maintenance of the center "should be given utmost priority," the report said.
Youths held on criminal accusations are housed in Biloxi. The county's youth court is in Gulfport.
Supervisors have recently discussed the possibility of building a new juvenile center.
The grand jury considered 551 criminal cases during its six-month term and indicted defendants on 379 charges.
Judge Larry Bourgeois impanelled the grand jury in September. The jury was in session 21 days.