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Sheriff's deputy resigns, blames pay

June 27, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A corporal with the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department has resigned and accepted a job with another police agency, citing low pay and inadequate benefits as his reasons for leaving.

Chief Deputy Kenneth Lemaster said he believes Cpl. Warren Spessert could end up being the first of several officers who leave because of low pay. Five to six of the department's 40 officers have said they've turned in applications to other police departments, Lemaster said. All gave low pay as the reason for wanting to leave.

Spessert's resignation was announced during the Berkeley County Commission meeting Thursday morning. The commissioners accepted it without comment.

Despite a request from Sheriff Randy Smith, the commission would not increase the salary scale of deputies. Instead, every county employee was given a two-step raise, starting with the upcoming fiscal year.

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Even with the raise, deputies will not make what they could at other departments. Spessert accepted a job with the Charles Town (W.Va.) Police Department, where a starting officer makes between $30,763 and $32,427, depending on certification and experience.

A starting deputy in Berkeley County will make $25,282 once the raises go into effect on July 1.

In neighboring Jefferson County, deputies start at $29,600.

A starting, certified police officer in Ranson, W.Va., makes $33,790, while in Martinsburg, the starting salary is $30,700.

Commission President Howard Strauss said last week he will consider raising taxes if it would make higher salaries for deputies possible. However, he stressed that he wants Smith to be the one who asks that taxes be increased.

A levy on November's general election ballot that would have increased deputy salaries failed. Although it garnered a 55 percent approval rate, it needed 60 percent to go into effect.

Spessert, who had been with the sheriff's department for seven or eight years, coordinated the county's Neighborhood Watch program, trained deputies on use of tasers, was the four-wheeler safety training officer and was a training officer for new hires, Lemaster said.

He leaves as more than simply an officer in uniform, Lemaster said.

Although Spessert's vacancy already been has filled, it will take a while for the untrained officer to go through the police academy, learn his way around the county, learn how to prepare for court and the other intricacies of being a police officer, Lemaster said.

Spessert's replacement and another new officer will start working next month. Three deputies are at the police academy in Charleston, W.Va., and two still are riding with training officers, having completed the academy, Lemaster said.

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