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Jefferson Co. police officials sound off on combined force idea

December 16, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - In an attempt to expand police protection in the county, officials in Jefferson County government are considering a plan to merge all the county's police department into one force.

But there is concern that using town police departments to build the force will leave the towns without the officers they need to be proactive in fighting crime.

"Nobody's ever talked to us yet. There's too many unknown (issues) for us to make a comment," said Shepherdstown Police Chief Curtis Keller.

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As the county has grown, residents in different areas of the county have requested more police patrols to control crime problems in their neighborhoods.

Over the years, people living in the Blue Ridge Mountain area have complained about repeated crime problems like house burglaries and vandalism and a Middleway, W.Va., man has been leading a charge to get something done about speeding motorists in his community.

In an attempt to increase police patrols in the county, Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober has proposed a plan to combine the Charles Town Police Department, the Shepherdstown Police Department, the Harpers Ferry Police Department and the sheriff's department into one force.

Boober said the Jefferson County Commission asked him to look into the idea because the West Virginia State Police is decreasing its presence in the county and because Gov. Joe Manchin has stressed the idea of combining government resources to increase efficiency.

With his current staffing, Boober said he is able to have about three to four deputies working during the day, about three working an evening shift and two deputies working a midnight shift.

That is not enough deputies to serve the needs of the county, Boober said.

If all the police departments are combined into one force, Boober said he would be able to have about 10 deputies working during the day, 11 working an evening shift and seven working the midnight shift.

There are 60 police officers in the county, and having them work under one organization would give the county improved police coverage because there would not be four separate police departments dealing with issues such as vacation time and other aspects of scheduling that go into determining patrols, Boober said.

Keller said the concept makes sense, but said he is concerned about towns losing police patrols in the process.

Keller said he likes to be proactive by making police visible in town, which hopefully deters crime. Keller said he is concerned about using existing officers to build a county police force but adding no extra officers for the towns once the new force is built.

"I don't think the "t's" or the "i's" have been looked at to cross them or dot them," Keller said.

Ranson Police Chief Bill Roper said no one has approached him about a single county police agency. Roper said it appears a single police force would make more sense for the county, but he wonders where it would leave the city of Ranson.

"There is a lot of issues that would have to be resolved," said Harpers Ferry Police Chief Donald Buracker, who questioned whether there would be a cost to cities and how benefits like retirement packages would be handled.

In response to concerns about town's losing officers, Boober said his plan would give the same amount of coverage to towns. The county would be divided into sectors under the single police department, and if a town within one of the sectors needed more patrols, more officers could be added to the sector, Boober said.

Also, if a particular sector is having little criminal activity, officers from that sector could be moved into a town's sector to expand patrols, Boober said.

"It benefits everyone really if it's allowed to work itself out," Boober said.

Keller said he is worried about officers being taken out of the sector covering Shepherdstown since Shepherdstown could be considered a quiet area.

"And then we won't have anyone. I know how that works," Keller said.

Boober said the department would be overseen by a board of directors that would be made up of representatives from the towns and county government.

A committee made up of representatives from the county commission and local mayors is studying the feasibility of the new police force and doing research on the proposal, Boober said.

Boober said he expects more discussions on the idea to begin early next year.

Charles Town Mayor Peggy Smith said city officials need to study the idea more, especially in regards to how it will affect pension plans for officers.

"That will probably take years of planning, but the concept is good," Smith said.

Under Boober's plan, cities could maintain a smaller police force. Then that department would work along with the county force, which would also serve the city, Smith said.

"You have to listen to a presentation like that," Smith said.

But Smith stressed that the county police force is only in the preliminary stages and said she would consult with the city's police officers about how to proceed of the plan gains momentum.

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