State Police detachments all over West Virginia are feeling the impact of budget cuts – but perhaps one of the places where they’re feeling it the most is in Jefferson County.
In addition to affecting State Police, it’s also affecting other agencies, as well.
“It becomes an issue of both the safety of the public, as well as the safety of the officers,” said Jefferson County Sheriff Pete Dougherty.
Dougherty relies on cooperation with State Police to respond to emergency calls, but the pressure keeps going up. Last year, there were 11 state troopers stationed in Jefferson County. Now, there are only five.
“That leaves us in a position where we’ve really got effectively a 200 percent cut in the number of officers,” Dougherty added. “Having one or two additional state troopers is not really going to solve the problem.”
This problem is reflective of a statewide issue. A recent budget cut led to the elimination of 51 trooper positions. Plus, three entire detachments were closed – which means they have to spread their forces even thinner to cover the gap.
“People in the southern part of the state, they need the same police coverage as anybody else in the state of West Virginia,” said Capt. Eric Widmeyer, commander of Troop 2. “But when those counties are unable to hire their deputies because of their revenue, the State Police has to fill in for public safety.”
Don’t expect the numbers in the Eastern Panhandle to come back right away, either. New trooper classes at the State Police Academy are currently on hold.
“West Virginia State Police has to pick up the slack somewhere,” Widmeyer added. “Where do you pick it up at when you only have 600 men?”
Two of the five remaining troopers in the Kearneysville detachment are sergeants, who used to have mainly administrative-type roles. After the numbers dropped, though, their responsibilities have changed to allow for more field and patrol work.
Widmeyer is hopeful that with a new governor and new administration, maybe more emphasis will be put on public safety going forward.