By Mannix Porterfield
West Virginia State Police Superintendent Jay Smithers says he needs another 274 troopers to maintain services and most of them, if approved, should be assigned to the special Crimes Against Children Unit.
Perhaps, he told the Select Committee on Minority Issues, the Legislature should look at tapping into money allotted to other state agencies to pay for the added manpower.
“Without question, the Crimes Against Children Unit needs a significant shot in the arm,” Smithers said Monday, as July interims opened.
About 16 officers are assigned to that unit, making it “extremely understaffed,” the colonel said.
“It’s unfortunate that we need the unit to begin with,” he told the committee.
“They’re overwhelmed with work. As we speak, we have a 100 percent conviction rate. That tells me we are just shooting fish in a barrel. We work the cases we know we can grab and work from A to Z and get them through the system and move on to the next.”
Ultimately, Smithers said he wants to merge the sex offender registry with the special unit.
Smithers said the Department of Public Safety has 698 funded positions, but only 400 are actually field troopers, from detachment commander on down. The rest are special operations.
His agency operates 60 detachments across the state, and 22 of them are manned by four or fewer troopers per county, Smithers said.
“How would you like to try to run a business 24/7 days a week with four people?” he asked the legislators.
In addition to the actual officers, he said the agency has some 400 civilian employees.
“Truly, we are in the crossroads of our agency,” Smithers said. “We are the premier law enforcement agency. We take pride in ourselves in getting the job done.”
Smithers acknowledged the state is facing challenging economic times but pointed out his agency’s funding has steadily dwindled in recent years.
“Maybe it’s time, instead of asking for increase in general revenue money, to look at already appropriated money in other areas and redistributing those existing funds,” the superintendent said.
A new cadet class is to begin Sept. 16 and the department has 36 vacancies to fill. Its budget is about $108 million.
“We have several pressing needs,” the colonel said. “The database at the State Police headquarters, the brains of our system, was created 15 years ago and was actually built in a garage. We’re still under that system. It’s completely unsupported.”
Lt. Reggie Patterson, asked to give a minority update, told the committee there are 18 uniformed female troopers, one black female and one Hispanic.
As for male officers, he said, 12 are black, five are Hispanic and one is an Indian.
Smithers said it is difficult to fill vacant slots because the agency constantly is facing the task of meeting its overall financial obligations at the end of the year.
“You can’t project that you will be able to fill your funded positions,” he said. “That makes it extremely hard to go out and recruit an individual for when the next training class will be.”
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