Lawmakers would support sheriff bill

CHARLESTON – Local lawmakers would support a bill requiring sheriff’s departments to provide protective vests and body armor to deputies if it is something local law enforcement wants and deems necessary.

The bill was introduced this week by Roane County Delegate Bob Ashley, R-11th. The bill was brought to the House with the support of the West Virginia Sheriff’s Association after Roane County Deputy John Westfall was injured in a shootout last August with Luke Baber, who had shot and killed Cpl. Michael Lee Bailey and Trooper Eric Michael Workman at the time.

Westfall was shot three times and had a protective vest on.

The bill would require county sheriff’s departments to supply such protective gear to deputies.

Wood County Delegate Anna Border, R-9th, said she has not seen the bill but believes it is a good idea.

Westfall was on the House floor Monday and a resolution was read that he believed having the vest on saved his life, she said.

Border was surprised to find out that vests and such gear are not supplied to all officers.

“I was surprised they didn’t already have it,” she said. “I guess I assumed they did.”

Border said she would support such legislation.

“It seems like such a small thing, but it can save a life,” she said.

Border represents a part of Wood County and all of Wirt County. She said a financial component needs to be a part of the bill to allow rural counties to comply and be able to purchase the equipment.

“I would hate to see another unfunded mandate,” she said. “We get enough of those from the federal government.”

Wood County Delegate John Ellem, R-10th, said he has not seen the bill but believes it would be good if it has the support of local law enforcement officials.

“I would seek their opinion on this,” he said. “I would want to see if they see it as a help or a hindrance.”

Drug abuse is on the increase and more is expected from officers in being able to deal with it, Ellem said, adding the state has lost officers due to increased risks and dangerous situations.

If it would be seen as a benefit and helps saves lives then it would be a good thing, Ellem said.

“It would have to be something law enforcement wants,” he said of putting his support behind it.

Ellem believes the state can come up with the funding for such a project, especially if it can save the lives of law enforcement officers.

Wood County Sheriff Ken Merritt said the department has been supplying this kind of protective gear for around 12 years.

The equipment lasts around 10 years before needing replacement and can be expensive.

Some counties might have a hard time financing such equipment, but Merritt said all sheriff’s departments are facing a financial crunch but need to take the steps to provide their employees with proper protection.

With the demands of the job, Merritt said this kind of equipment has become a necessity.

“I think it should now be a part of the uniform,” he said.