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Fewer troopers covering Berkeley County, W.Va.

June 14, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

The West Virginia State Police contingent in Berkeley County is half the size it was in 1999, and Sheriff Randy Smith said Thursday law enforcement officials in the county sometimes have trouble keeping up with the volume of calls.

There are 12 state police troopers in Berkeley County now, down from 24 in 1999, officials said.

Smith took his concern about the situation to the Berkeley County Commissioners Thursday, a day after state police called on the Sheriff's Department for help responding to accidents on Interstate 81.

The sheriff convinced Commission President Howard Strauss and Commissioner John E. Wright to write letters to Gov. Bob Wise and State Police Superintendent Howard Hill requesting that more troopers be moved to Berkeley County.

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Although Smith did not ask the commissioners to request a specific number of troopers, he said the state police should be able to find 10 troopers in the state to send to Berkeley County.

At one point last Friday night, two troopers and five Berkeley County Sheriff's deputies were tied up on calls and six more calls were waiting, Smith said.

"You can't give the public what they should get under those circumstances," he said.

Sometimes as few as two troopers work a shift in a county that has about 90,000 residents, John Droppleman, a Berkeley County trooper and a member of the board of directors of the West Virginia Troopers Association, said in a telephone interview.

It is not unusual for two troopers to get tied up on routine calls like accidents during their shifts, Droppleman said.

When additional calls come in, the troopers get to them as they have time, Droppleman said.

Sometimes a trooper may not be able to respond to a call immediately, even though it could be a serious one, Droppleman said.

If, for instance, a trooper is in the process of taking someone into custody and receives a call for a domestic fight, the fight will have to wait until the trooper finishes with the first case, Droppleman said.

"Doggone it, if I don't get to that situation in time and he shoots her, someone's going to be asking some questions. And they should," Droppleman said.

"The folks up here are just going to suffer. I don't like it," he said.

Smith said that when he became sheriff, state police handled all car accidents in the county. Smith said he agreed to handle half the accidents in the county while state police handled accidents on I-81.

Smith said his department will help state police, although with 32 deputies, the department also is spread thin.

Droppleman said the trooper shortage also presents a danger to officers. Sometimes troopers work alone, which can be dangerous in some situations.

"This is a busy place. Something is going to happen and I hope none of ours gets hurt," Droppleman said.

A woman who answered the telephone at state police headquarters in South Charleston, W.Va., Thursday evening said no officials there were available for comment.

The woman said classes for new troopers will begin soon.

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