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Berkeley County sheriff gets OK to hire three deputies

November 21, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith received permission Thursday to hire three more deputies under the COPS grant program, but whether the officers will have cars to drive remains a mystery.

Smith told the Berkeley County Commission that he has enough cars for his current number of deputies, plus one spare car. The three new deputies could end up driving four-wheel drive vehicles designed for limited, winter use.

Part of the dilemma, Smith has said, is that the commission took away his and other department heads' equipment budgets. All equipment, including cars, now must be purchased through the commission.

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"I don't want to get into this car-buying thing every three to four months," Commissioner Steve Teufel told the sheriff.

Teufel suggested the new deputies drive the four-wheel drive vehicles, which are military surplus. Because the four-wheel drives do not have air conditioning and are not designed to go more than 50 mph, they cannot be counted on for long-term use, Smith said. They are designed to be used during inclement weather, he said.

Teufel said inclement weather will be present by the time the new deputy positions are posted, interviews are conducted and hiring recommendations are made.

A COPS grant lasts for three years. During that time, federal officials will pay $225,000 to help hire the new deputies, while the commission must pay around $76,000. The commission agreed to do that Thursday.

COPS grants do not include money to buy cars.

After three years, the county will take over paying the deputies' salaries. County Administrator Deborah Hammond said the COPS grant program has been used in the past to hire officers, but she could not say how many times.

Smith and the commissioners have argued several times in the past over buying new cruisers. Smith said he needs to replace six to eight cruisers per year because of high mileage.

The commission did give Smith approval Thursday to buy a used car, formerly part of a police fleet in Virginia. A 1999 model, it has 77,000 miles on it and costs $8,000. Much of the cost will come from an insurance settlement when a Berkeley County cruiser was involved in an accident earlier this year, Smith said.

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