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Sheriff to alter deputies' shifts

May 02, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Allowing his deputies to work four 10-hour shifts a week should improve officer morale, allow for more patrols during peak crime hours, speed up response times and allow for more deputies to respond to possibly volatile situations, Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith said Thursday.

The Berkeley County Commission gave Smith the go-ahead to start the shifts, after the county's legal counsel said the plan did not conflict with any federal or state regulations.

With deputies threatening to quit because of low salaries, Smith said working four days a week instead of five definitely would improve morale. Officers currently work five eight-hours shifts.

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Officers could use the extra day off to relax, or to work at part-time jobs to supplement their pay, Smith said.

More deputies will be working during the hours when crime seems more prevalent - 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. on weekends, Smith told the commissioners at their Thursday night meeting.

Keeping deputies happy is important, he has said. Several deputies have threatened to quit over low salaries, which are set by commissioners. A lieutenant with 26 years of experience at the sheriff's department makes less money than a starting officer at a police department in Jefferson County.

Last week, deputies asked the commissioners for a pay raise, but the commissioners made no promises.

With the state police eliminating night shifts and crime increasing, Smith said the county would be hard hit if deputies quit. Even now with a full-strength force of 41, Smith said the deputies working were four calls behind.

"You can't find a slow day in Berkeley County anymore," he said.

In addition to responding to calls more quickly, at least two officers should respond to calls that could be violent, which protects both residents and officers, Smith said.

Deputies will start working the new shifts Sunday. During a one-month trial period, Smith said he will keep track of any glitches or problems that arise before deciding whether to make the scheduling permanent.

"Hopefully it will cut down on some overtime," he said.

Commissioner Steve Teufel emphasized that the scheduling plan is only for the sheriff's department, not other county offices.

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