KEYSER - Comments made during an open discussion held during the Keyser City Council's Oct. 14 meeting prompted three employees of the Keyser Police Department to speak out at the next meeting.
By Liz Beavers
Tribune Managing Editor
KEYSER - Comments made during an open discussion held during the Keyser City Council’s Oct. 14 meeting prompted three employees of the Keyser Police Department to speak out at the next meeting.
In turn, their comments prompted council member Jim Hannas to tell the officers, “Nobody’s going to get rid of you.”
Officers Derek Shaffer and Jared Bruce and dispatcher Michelle Bowers all told the Keyser mayor and council on Oct. 28 that eliminating city dispatch or disbanding the police department altogether would be bad for the citizens of Keyser.
The officers’ comments were prompted by comments made by the city officials and citizens in the audience about how much it costs to run the police department and how much of a cost savings it would be for the city to turn law enforcement over to the Mineral County Sheriff’s Department.
Noting that the Keyser Police Department’s annual budget is $975,000, Hannas asked, “What could this city do with $975,000 a year?”
Both mayor Damon Tillman and Mineral County commissioner Jerry Whisner confirmed to the News Tribune following that meeting that the idea of disbanding the police department had been discussed by Whisner and retired KPD chief Tom Golden, but no action was taken at the time.
Hannas said during the initial discussion Oct. 14 that, “If the City of Keyser says they cannot afford the police department any longer, the sheriff, the county and the state would have to (step in.)”
On Oct. 28, however, Officer Shaffer told the city officials that county deputies would not have the time nor the manpower to answer the wide variety of calls which the Keyser Police Department handles on a regular basis.
“The sheriff’s department will not handle many calls which we take daily,” he said. “No barking dogs, no parking violations, no fireworks complaints, or any city ordinance complaint, for that matter.”
Shaffer also noted that KPD is one of the few law enforcement departments in the state that still does vehicle unlocks for people, and that service would also go away if the department were disbanded.
Shaffer went on to address council members Jennifer Junkins and Jim Hannas directly, recalling numerous occasions when they called the police department for assistance with various city matters.
“The sheriff’s department will not respond to these types of incidents,” he said. “Mr. Hannas, since 2005 you have called our department at least 35 times with various requests. Over half of the calls you made are all things that would not be handled or even considered by the sheriff’s department.”
In Officer Bruce’s comments, he noted that, with the cost of equipment, training and other necessities, “It is no surprise that the police department costs money.”
He asked, however, if any other areas were considered in discussing cost savings.
As for the city dispatch, which one citizen attending the Oct. 14 meeting has been fighting to eliminate, chief of communications Bowers explained that the city dispatchers do so much more than just handle calls.
“The job is not simply just answering phones,” she said. “Somedays, it is calling the taxi for an elderly woman who can no longer see her phone book, but she remembers our number. It is listening to a fight in progress and helping the caller feel secure while getting our officers out there safely and timely.
“We do not only handle communications, we assist our officers with arrests while they are in our custody., and we witness and deal with any assault victims, both children and adults, while they are at our station.
(The job) “is also answer questions about voting, DMV, dog complaints, town events and the list goes on … We are available 24/7.”
Bowers also noted that other duties include background checks, statistical reports, grant applications, and notary work for the city, among others.
At the conclusion of their presentation, Hannas told the three that Section 33 of the city’s charter mandates that there will be a police force in the city.
“Nobody’s going to get rid of you,” he said. “It’s in the city charter.”
He went on to say the original comments made were “in open discussion that shouldn’t have happened.”
Tillman also assured the officers that, “As long as I’m mayor, you’re not going anywhere. I will fight for you.”