Police recruitment a struggle for Mid-Ohio Valley small towns

PARKERSBURG — Police departments in small towns across the area are having problems filling open positions on their rosters.

The lack of applicants coincides with a recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the federal government’s primary source of justice statistics, that the amount of law enforcement officers per capita has decreased 11 percent since 1996.

Robert Haught, chief of the Sistersville Police Department in Tyler County, said there was one reason why he hasn’t been able to fill the last of his four positions at the department in over six months.

“Money is the total issue,” he said.

Even though the starting salary is less than what he’d like, he doesn’t blame Sistersville’s government for the problem.

“Our city council is very pro-police,” he said.

Due to the decrease of potential applicants, Haught said other law enforcement agencies have, at times, recruited his people before they have even completed training.

“I’ve had officers come back from the academy and turn in a two-week notice on the first day,” he said.

He said the problem is tied to the oil and gas boom in his region. Because county governments are receiving tax money from the energy companies within their borders, they have larger budgets than the municipalities in which to attract the best candidates.

“They can afford to pay four or five dollars an hour more than we can,” Haught said.

Steve Kastigar, captain of the New Martinsville Police Department, agreed with Haught that county and state departments are pulling recruits from departments in small towns all across the state. He said the problem was reversed before the gas industry moved into the county.

“Historically we have taken officers from the Wetzel County Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “It’s been a never-ending battle.”

He said he understands the need for deputies at the county sheriff’s office to cover the county, but he said the majority of criminal activity in Wetzel County happens in New Martinsville.

“Eighty percent of the crime in the county happens here and 90 percent of drug cases came from the city,” he said.

Kastigar’s boss, Chief Tim Cecil, said increases in his officers’ workloads have nearly tripled since the beginning of the year.

“We averaged about 390 calls a month,” he said. “But we’ve had over 1,000 calls for service each of the last two months.”

Even though workloads can be hard on officers in smaller towns in the state, Haught said the professional satisfaction received by working in a rural setting helps make up for the long hours.

“You get to do more real police work,” he said. “You work a case from start to finish.”

He said in larger departments, after the responding officer is done at the crime scene, he hands the case over to a detective. At his department, that officer would handle the case from open to close, working with all facets of the investigation throughout the process.

But Kastigar said working in towns like Sistersville brings you closer to the people you protect. He said officers aren’t just a symbol of authority, they are close neighbors.

“You get a sense of community. People know you by your name, not your job,” he said.

For more information or to apply for either police departments, visit their city buildings at 191 Main St., New Martinsville, and 200 Diamond St., Sistersville.