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Departures typical for Berkeley County Sheriff's Department

June 30, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County leaders on Thursday bid farewell to one of their most experienced sheriff's deputies, and accepted the resignations of three others from a department that has struggled to keep officers from leaving for higher pay elsewhere.

Berkeley County Commissioners Howard L. Strauss and Ronald K. Collins presented Berkeley County Sheriff's Department deputy Capt. K.C. Bohrer with his department-issued firearm, a Glock .45 caliber handgun and a plaque in appreciation of his 27 1/2 years of service. Commissioner Steven C. Teufel was absent from the board's regular weekly meeting.

"It's been a lot of years. It's been a privilege to work here," said Bohrer, who informed Sheriff Randy Smith in March of his decision to retire after joining the department on Feb. 1, 1979. A Morgan County native, Bohrer's career began in Paw Paw, W.Va., before he graduated from high school.

Like departing deputies W.D. Bradshaw and Cpl. W.D. Christian. Bohrer, 47, is not leaving law enforcement, but has accepted a professional opportunity elsewhere, reportedly for more money and/or a better benefits package.


Bradshaw was hired by the Jefferson County (W.Va.) Sheriff's Department, and Christian accepted an offer from the Charles Town (W.Va.) Police Department. Bohrer joined the criminal investigations division of the Frederick County (Va.) Sheriff's Office. Deputy Robert Dick was hired by a trucking company in the private sector.

"I'm very concerned about the department," Bohrer said after leaving commission chambers, where he was joined by retired Capt. Richard Steerman and his possible successor, Lt. Gary Harmison, among other officers.

"We're losing a lot of police officers ... sometimes things have to get worse before they get better," Bohrer said.

"It's sad when an officer of this caliber retires," Collins said of Bohrer's departure, effective today.

In a quivering voice and fighting back tears, Bohrer touted the professionalism he learned from Steerman, his mentor. Steerman retired in 1999 after having a heart attack while on the job.

"We were like father and son a lot of times ... I love him dearly," Bohrer said after the presentation.

Harmison said he only hoped to be able to maintain the department's tradition of service for the county.

"He's taught me a lot," Harmison said of Bohrer, whom he worked with since 1984. "I just hope to be able to do what he's done and carry on the tradition."

For Smith, the departure of four deputies continues a perpetual struggle to retain a full staff of 44, let alone increasing the department's size to a level he believes is adequate.

"We are at least a minimum of 20 to 25 officers short for the county's population," Smith said.

Smith said he has researched and discussed the staffing situation with county leaders several times, and noted neighboring jurisdictions have substantially more officers. The sheriff did acknowledge the effort by the commission in the last two years to address salary concerns.

Since taking office in 2001, Smith estimates between $350,000 and $500,000 has been wasted on training deputies who since have left for higher pay elsewhere. More than 20 have left the department in that time, he said.

In a joint interview after the commission meeting, Collins and county Human Resources Director Alan Davis said they hoped to have a staffing model study completed later this year or by early 2007 to help officials determine a "target" number of deputies needed.

Davis said determining law enforcement needs cannot be calculated by simply factoring in the county's population, but also must quantify the effects of geography, high and low density population centers and response times, among other conditions.

Collins is expected to meet today with Smith to determine the number of deputies required by state law for the county's judicial center, which is set to open in October. The county already has reserved eight slots in the next West Virginia State Police Academy training program, Collins said.

In the 2007-08 fiscal year, Davis said county leaders committed to implementing a longevity pay increase package for tenured officers. That follows a "giant step" of a pay increase already implemented for new deputies, Davis said.

"We're trying to run this county and do the best job we can ... without raising taxes," Collins said. "And that ain't easy."

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