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New Shepherdstown chief has high hopes for department

March 21, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Shepherdstown's new police chief said he has been emphasizing to his officers that not everyone in town is a troublemaker.

"I think they are seeing it," Curtis Keller said.

Keller's remarks come after Mayor Peter Wilson said he believed there was a rift between the police department and some people in the town.

Wilson said in a previous interview that many people in town believed the police department does not respect them and some business owners feel the police department does not understand them.

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At the time, Wilson said he wanted to have a police chief who will train the town's police officers to deal with situations in a variety of ways, from the use of physical force to using conversation to cool off situations.

Keller, who was named police chief March 9, said that training will start soon and police officers from other areas who specialize in that type of training will be used.

But while Keller is focusing on training for his officers, he wants to make sure citizens understand the job of a police officer.

Keller, who had been interim police chief since December, said he set aside a day recently where town residents were able to come to the Entler Hotel to meet the town's police officers.

About 30 to 40 people showed up, Keller said.

Keller said he would eventually like to sponsor a "police academy," where town residents could learn more about how police officers do their jobs and why they have to take certain actions.

"It's got to work both ways. They have to realize we have a job to do," Keller said.

Keller replaces Police Chief Charles Cole, who resigned in October.

Cole, who had been police chief for five years, said he resigned because he could not agree with Wilson over the management of the police department.

Cole's resignation also followed the 2002 arrest of a woman in Shepherdstown which led to allegations of excessive force by a police officer.

Cole later concluded no excessive force was used when Nancy VanTol was arrested Aug. 30, 2002, and the case against VanTol eventually was dismissed after a judge ruled that the town took too long to pursue the case.

Wilson has said that some people in town felt that the VanTol case was never fully resolved.

Fifty-six people applied for the police chief job and there were "some really good ones," said Shepherdstown Town Council member Howard Mills.

But because of Keller's performance on the job since he took over as interim police chief, council members decided Keller "was the man for the job," said Mills, who declined to comment further.

Wilson could not be reached Sunday.

Keller said working with the community will be a priority with his department.

Since taking over the department, Keller has drafted a general philosophy of how the department will deal with residents.

That philosophy will seek a partnership between the police department and the community, Keller said.

Through the partnership, problems that affect the quality of life in town can be identified, Keller said. Then, strategies can be developed to tackle the problems, he said.

Keller, 53, is a veteran police officer from Berkeley County. He retired from the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department in August 2000, ending a 26-year career with the department.

In his final position in the department, Keller was responsible for daily operations in the department.

Keller, a licensed paramedic, also was in charge of the department's special response team.

Referring to his police career, Keller said "the old spark came back" when he joined the Shepherdstown Police Department.

"I'm happy to be here. I just want us to be a role model for other departments," Keller said.

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