KEYSER — Faced with the loss of a second officer in the past month, the Keyser City Council voted unanimously Wednesday afternoon to bring the city police department back up to full staffing.


by richard kerns
Tribune Staff?Writer

KEYSER — Faced with the loss of a second officer in the past month, the Keyser City Council voted unanimously Wednesday afternoon to bring the city police department back up to full staffing.
Police Chief Karen Shoemaker briefed the council on the department's pressing staffing needs, and appealed for additional hires to offset the loss of the two officers, who both left the city force for the Mineral County Sheriff's Office.
“We're down now two officers,” she said. “I can't tell you how desperately I need them.”
Shoemaker attributed the loss of the officers to better pay and benefits with county law enforcement. In addition to a higher salary, the Sheriff's Department provides family insurance coverage, while the city's policy only covers employees themselves. That difference has proved significant for
young police officers who are raising families.
Shoemaker hinted that more such departures may be coming.
“We're such a young department,” she said. “I don't know if we're done losing personnel yet, and it takes so long to get them trained.”
The staffing shortage is coming at a difficult time for the police department. Potomac State College just re-opened for the fall semester, bringing another 2,000 people into town. And one officer is slated to undergo knee surgery, and could be out for two months.
Even with current staffing, officers sometimes work alone. A fully-staffed department usually provides for at least two officers on duty at all times.
Veteran Officer Chris Paitsel, who attended the meeting with Shoemaker, said officers realize the staffing challenges, and also the risks of working alone. “There's times when we're working eight, 10 hours by ourselves,” he said. “One guy out there is not safe.”
Paitsel noted a scenario where one officer might be called on to respond to a party with a dozen or more intoxicated people. “That's not good odds.”
Keyser officers currently work 12 hour shifts. While overtime can be attractive, the men hit their limit after so many hours. “You work 12 hours, and you don't work any more. You're done,” Paitsel said.
Aggravating the problem is the need for officers to transport detainees to the regional jail in Augusta. Officers must make the two-hour round trip whenever someone who is arrested can't post bail, or if the arrest occurs after 4 p.m., when the Magistrate's Office closes. In the past the city could usually hold detainees at a holding facility in Keyser, but the county has since closed that office.
“Every time we make an arrest we have to take a man off the street and transport them to Augusta,” Shoemaker said.
More than just the expense of hiring a new officer — which Mayor William “Sonny” Rhodes put at $32,000 — the city faces $2,500 in tuition and additional expenses for Police Academy training, and a months' long delay in certifying a new recruit. Council members told Shoemaker to begin that process, voting unanimously to bring the department up to its full strength of 12.5 sworn officers.