MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Four years removed from the graduation of the last State Police cadet class, the Morgantown Detachment is beginning to show the signs.
“With their manpower, I can remember when they had 20-some officers, and now they are down to nine or ten,” Monongalia County Sheriff Perry Palmer said. “We’ve been picking up the slack on that. We really have been averaging probably five or six to one of their calls because they just don’t have the people.”
And, now, the State Police detachment in Morgantown won’t handle 911 calls anymore — at least not those directly from MECCA 911.
“We’ll make up the slack,” Palmer said. “We’ll continue to give Monongalia County the courtesy and professionalism that we always have,” he said.
Captain J. E. Stout, a Troop Commander operating out of Fairmont, said four straight years without a cadet class led to this moment — which he said he put off “as long as he could.”
“The fact that we haven’t had any replacement officers? We just can’t keep up with the original call-for-call commitment that we had,” Cpt. Stout said.
Palmer met with Detachment commanders, including Stout, in the weeks and months leading up to the change. An arrangement is in place for State Police to continue providing assistance to local and county law enforcement, but they will not be fielding those secondary 911 calls directly anymore. Stout said coming up with some level of rotation had simply put too much strain on MECCA 911.
“We’ll continue to back them up on calls,” he said. “We’re hoping that they continue to back us up on calls, because at the end of the day it’s not really any one particulars fault or any agencies fault. It’s just finances. It’s just budgetary.”
“If they’re in the area and they hear one of our guys go out on a domestic or a car accident with injuries or something and they are in the area, they said they would key up and help us,” Palmer said.
Palmer said he does not expect the change to impact public safety. State Police will still field calls directly at their 911 center.
“We’re going to continue to answer the calls,” Palmer said. “I want to make sure people know that, but it will strain our man power some.”
The strain, he said, shouldn’t be hard to pinpoint — the county’s western end is more rural and at times difficult to get to in bad weather.
“We operate with probably five to seven guys on a shift — and that may sound like a good bit — but when you are covering 365 square miles to respond to somebody in the western end and you get a couple of guys tied up, it will put a strain on somewhat,” Palmer said. “But not to the point where it’s going to put anybody in harms way in the county.”
Stout said he’s tried a number of things to solve the problem in Monongalia County — including recruiting other troopers from adjoining counties. Those measures weren’t doing enough to solve the problem, he said.
“A cadet class is definitely what we need,” Stout said. “The problem is we need two or three of them in a row and very quickly just to help kind of offset the losses that we’re going to have by people that are aging out and people that have their years of service and then will be leaving.”
Governor Jim Justice’s proposed budget includes funding for an accelerated cadet class.
“I get it,” Stout said. “I’ve been a West Virginian my whole life. I’ve worked since I was 15 to pay taxes. I don’t want to pay anymore than I’m paying either, but we’ve got to get something done to where we can start putting some more officers on the street.”