October 29, 2020

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Berkeley Co. OKs funding for two new deputies | West Virginia

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MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Berkeley County Council voted 5-0 on Thursday to allocate about $115,000...

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Berkeley County Council voted 5-0 on Thursday to allocate about $115,000 to hire two additional county law enforcement deputies.

The move comes after the county was unsuccessful in its application earlier this year for grant funding through the office of Community Oriented Policing Services, a component of the U.S. Justice Department, to assist with hiring more deputies.

Thursday’s move increases the number of uniformed county deputies to 62, including Berkeley County Sheriff Curtis Keller, ranking administrative officers, and deputies assigned to criminal investigations, the state court system and school resource officers.

That leaves a little more than 40 deputies for road patrol, Keller said.

Keller earlier this year requested seven additional deputies, including the restoration of two positions that were eliminated as part of a compensation agreement to adjust the salaries of the officers.

The county set aside funds for three additional deputies, but the county council agreed earlier this month to use some of the money to allow the sheriff to move a civil process server already on staff from part-time to full-time. 

Keller said the full-time civil process server will further relieve law enforcement officers from having to serve court documents, and is further relieving uniformed officers from having to take mental hygiene-related trips to facilities across the state and assisting with enforcement of state vehicle registration.

According to a 2017 report by the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, the nationwide rate of sworn officers was 2.4 per 1,000 inhabitants.

Factoring current staffing levels of the Martinsburg detachment of the West Virginia State Police, Keller estimated the county would need to hire nearly 30 more deputies to have at least one officer per 1,000 Berkeley County residents.

The city of Martinsburg, which has its own police department, was excluded from Keller’s calculation. 

It will likely take 10 to 16 months for the new deputies to be positioned to take calls on their own, county council members were advised.

Including the cost of equipment and police cruiser, a new deputy is estimated to cost the county $100,000 to $120,000. But Keller said he believes the county could take an incremental approach to improving law enforcement staffing levels given growth in the county’s tax base.

“That’s a lot of money, I understand that,” Keller said in an interview after Thursday’s action.

Berkeley County Council President Doug Copenhaver Jr. separately reiterated concerns about the decreased number of state police troopers assigned to the Martinsburg detachment that assists the county.

“The thing that hurts us is when the state’s not able to recruit state troopers and they’re looking at less than 50% capacity,” Copenhaver said.

Keller said Thursday that three of four county sheriff’s deputies that are currently on military duties are expected to return to the department this fall.

The sheriff said he hired three part-time deputies to offset the temporary vacancies, but they only are working one or two days a week.

When more officers were requested earlier this year, county council was advised of an 11.5% increase in calls for service since 2017 and more than 50,000 calls for service handled by sheriff’s deputies last year.

The Martinsburg Police Department handled about 35,000 calls in 2019 and the Martinsburg detachment of West Virginia State Police handled about 12,000 calls, police have said.

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