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More, not less, is the plan for Panhandle state police barracks

October 23, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A new report may suggest that 30 West Virginia State Police detachments be shut down immediately, but mushrooming population growth in the Eastern Panhandle is likely to keep any local barracks from closing, a local state police official said Wednesday.

In fact, state police are planning for more facilities in the Eastern Panhandle, not fewer, according to Capt. Sid Sponaugle, who oversees state police operations in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties.

State police are preparing to build a new state police barracks behind the existing one along Edwin Miller Boulevard in Martinsburg, Sponaugle said.

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When the new facility is completed, the existing barracks will be gutted, renovated and the two buildings will be connected, Sponaugle said.

The existing barracks probably will serve as a lobby when the buildings are completed, Sponaugle said.

Sponaugle's comments came one day after the release of a report that suggested that 30 state police detachments in the state should be shut down immediately as part of a sweeping overhaul of the state police.

Many detachments are in disrepair and it is estimated it will cost about $22 million to renovate them, said Edward F. Connors of the Virginia-based Institute for Law and Justice.

The study also faulted state police methods, such as their reliance on a radio frequency that is separate from other law enforcement agencies, Connors said.

The result is confusion, Connors said.

A group of leading lawmakers was told Tuesday in Charleston, W.Va., that the ultimate goal should be to close all 62 detachments and base troopers out of seven regional commands.

Sponaugle said there are no immediate plans to close any barracks in the Panhandle.

While other parts of the state are losing population, it is soaring in the Eastern Panhandle and state police are concerned about having enough troopers to control crime in the area.

Because of a recent trooper shortage across the state, state police in Berkeley County had to eliminate its midnight shift on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

The Berkeley County detachment recently received four additional troopers, which should allow the barracks to resume its normal midnight shift during the holiday season, Sponaugle said.

The four new troopers brought the Berkeley County barracks up to 21 troopers. Jefferson County has 14 troopers, including two first sergeants, Sponaugle said.

A new class of troopers are going through the state police academy in Institute, W.Va., and Sponaugle said he hopes he can get two more troopers for the Berkeley and Jefferson detachments.

"That will put us in pretty good shape," Sponaugle said.

Sponaugle could not say how large the new Berkeley County detachment will be, but it will be considerably larger than the current building.

Construction could start in spring, Sponaugle said.

Like other detachments in the state, the current facility is worn out, Sponaugle said.

"It was built in the 1970s and it's falling apart," he said.

Three years ago, a $2.5 million state police headquarters was opened in the Burr Industrial Park in Jefferson County.

The complex includes repair bays for cruisers, sleeping areas for troopers who may be sent to the area for special detail and office space for up to 30 troopers.

It was initially thought that the barracks in Berkeley and Jefferson counties barracks would be combined in the new center but it is likely that they will remain separate to serve expected population growth in the area, Sponaugle said.

Del. John Overington, R-Berkeley, said Wednesday he would support the study if it means more troopers could be assigned to the Eastern Panhandle.

"I think the need (here) is clearly demonstrated," Overington said.

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