Police manpower problem has no easy answers

An editorial from The Exponent Telegram

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — It’s one thing to operate a convenience store with fewer people, but it’s quite another thing when a city is down 10 police officers.

Clarksburg’s Police Department is budgeted for 48 officers, but with the expected departure of two of them soon, the force will be down to 38.

A city has to make do. It just has to.

“We have to answer calls for service,” Clarksburg Police Chief Robbie Hilliard said. “There’s just no way around it. When someone calls 911, they want an officer. They don’t want to hear you’re down manpower.”

Like many municipal police departments, recruiting and retaining good officers is a tough task when there are higher paying jobs elsewhere.

While many officers in our area have gone on to higher paying positions in the State Police or with county departments, others have gone to work in the oil-and-gas industry. When the drillers can pay twice what a police officer makes, it puts a lot of pressure on municipal forces.

“As a city, we need to be more competitive, because there are a lot more job opportunities out there as a result of the oil-and-gas industry,” Mayor Cathy Goings said.

Council took a small step this year with a 2 1/2 percent raise for city workers. Starting salary for a police officer will go from $33,461 to $34,298 come July 1.

But what amount can be considered “competitive”? Can the city afford to pay officers $50,000 or $60,000? A good police officer is worth it, but how would the city find that kind of money?

Again, it’s easy for someone to apply for an opening at the convenience store and say, “I can start Monday.”

It’s a little more complicated for the police department…

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