MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Law enforcement bodies all across West Virginia are struggling in their efforts to recruit.
The Morgantown Police Department is looking for people interested in joining the force as the department deals with a 20% reduction in staffing. Charleston police are offering a $5,000 signing bonus. The West Virginia State Police continues to struggle to keep troopers which are easily lured away by other agencies.
West Virginia Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy says they need to tackle law enforcement with the same effort which was used a few years back to reverse a trend in the state’s corrections system. Sandy said improved pay and a change of culture have made hiring and keeping corrections officers much easier.
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) June 3, 2021
“We have to look at it and we have to change the mindset. We have to make sure we bring on board professional people who are going to make the right decisions,” Sandy said in a recent appearance on MetroNews “Talkline.”
Making those rights decisions is what U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito focused on during a visit with a cadet class of state troopers at the State Police Academy in Insitute Saturday.
Her remarks focused on deescalating situations involving those with disabilities.
“Police officers are often the ones who must step into difficult situations and resolve disputes while trying to maintain order and keep everyone safe,” Capito said in a statement released by her office. “Fortunately, the West Virginia State Police has taken a proactive stance when it comes to removing stereotypes and myths about people with disabilities, which promotes public safety and actually helps law enforcement do their jobs.”
The cadets have recently received training from Steve Slack, an ambassador with the National Down Syndrome Society, on best practices for handling those with disabilities.
Capito’s office said people with disabilities are 43% more likely to be arrested by the age of 28 and one-third of all civilians killed during encounters with police have a disability.
It’s those type of situations that are likely playing a role in making it more difficult to recruit officers.
According to Morgantown City Clerk Christine Wade, the police department has a shortage of 15 officers with the possibility of four other officers leaving before the year ends.
The police department has worked on improving community relations following calls for reform and protests against police brutality.
“We don’t have to look very far in our news to know that we have law enforcement needs throughout the United States,” Wade said. “There’s a decrease in law enforcement recruiting.”
Morgantown Deputy Mayor Rachel Fetty has pushed back against comments connecting the shortage to the new Special Committee on Community Policing and Citizen Review Board. Morgantown City Council approved the board last month with a focus on internal investigations and public outreach.
“I would just like to really clarify that we are so lucky to have the police department we have,” she said. “We do live in a changing economy, and many young folks are perhaps trying to make more money per hour than we pay the officers. I’m hopeful our salary review efforts that are happening in the city will offer some guidance on how to proceed.”
Sandy acknowledged low pay is only part of it and the poor publicity hasn’t helped.
“Today in law enforcement with cell phones, you’re watched closely. If you make a mistake, unintentionally or intentionally, you’re in the news, in the communities and all over the place. It’s tough,” Sandy offered.
Morgantown is accepting applications for entry-level police officer positions through June 14; the hiring process includes a civil service test, a physical agility test, completing a polygraph test, a background investigation and medical exams.
“It still requires the same level of training and professionalism that it always has,” Morgantown Police Chief Eric Powell said. “They are doing the best they can under the circumstances and they should be commended for it.”
The civil service exam is scheduled to take place June 19. Participants will have to pay a $25 examination fee.
Sandy believed the solution is a change in attitude. He said there needed to be a renewal of the spirit of former President John F. Kennedy.
“We need people to have the sense that yes they can get a job that is safer and make more money, but we need to change the balance in our country to where people want to be a public servant and want to serve the people,” he said.
MetroNews reporters Chris Lawrence and Jeff Jenkins contributed to this story.