Wood County Sheriff’s Department needs recruits

PARKERSBURG — The Wood County Sheriff’s Department and many other law enforcement agencies are having difficulties finding recruits as people are not considering law enforcement as a possible career option.

Wood County Sheriff Steve Stephens appeared before the Wood County Commission Thursday to give an update about the department.

With last week’s handover of the Wood County Holding Center to the state Division of Corrections to operate, officials estimate there will be an annual savings of around $600,000.

”We will have to sit down with the sheriff and decide how those funds can be expended,” Commission President Blair Couch said.

Officials discussed the possibility of increasing signing bonuses for new deputies to be competitive with other departments vying for qualified applicants, usually trained police officers looking to change departments.

Stephens said one of his focuses is on retention of deputies who are working hard and doing a good job.

”They are the ones who need the pay increase to keep them here,” he said. ”We are the lowest paid law enforcement agency in the area.”

During the last round of Civil Service exams, the Wood County Sheriff’s Department had 21 applicants. Of those, 11 showed up for the test.

Out of those, three failed the agility test. That left eight to take the written test, which only four passed. Background checks and other factors can determine whether the applicant is qualified to move on in the process.

The sheriff’s department has two positions that need filled.

”We are going to have to retest again,” Stephens said. ”We are not getting recruits.”

Stephens said he feels people are turning away from law enforcement as a career possibility.

The West Virginia State Police and other agencies are having trouble finding people, county officials said. State corrections facilities regularly have openings they are trying to fill, they added.

”You will be hearing more from me as this gets progressively worse,” Stephens said.

Deputy applicants have to take the Civil Service exam by the time they are 45 years old, Stephens said of state law.

Couch said more should be done to recruit from former military personnel. He also suggested agencies should try recruiting from the larger cities for officers who might appreciate coming to a more rural area like West Virginia.

He talked about four such officers who came to the state from the New York City area, Chicago, Orlando and Indianapolis.

”They moved here to be in the rural country where their money will stretch,” Couch said.

In other business:

∫ The Wood County Commission decided to rebid a timbering job at Veterans Memorial Park near the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport. Last week, the commission received a $80,000 bid from Whitetail Tree Service in Waverly to remove trees from around 10 acres of the park. The job was being bidded so the commission can meet requirements from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) about runway access at the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport, which is adjacent to the park. The amount was too high for the commission. Wood County Parks Director Jeremy Cross told the commission he has revised his numbers to lower the cost and still do what is required by the FAA.

∫ The Wood County Commission discussed its upcoming contract for E-911 service with Wirt County. Wood County 911 Director Rick Woodyard said they continue to have a good working relationship with the Wirt County E911 Committee. Wood and Wirt County share 911 services. The center is looking at doing upgrades which Wirt County officials have been supportive of. Together, both counties are averaging around 10,000 calls a month. Of those, several hundred come from Wirt. The center is up 800 calls for both counties from this time last year, Woodyard said.