KPD seeing call volume increase as pandemic drags on
By Barbara High
Tribune Staff Writer
KEYSER - With the COVID-19 pandemic heading into a year-long event, more and more people are starting to go back to their normal lives and routines.
Nobody understands that more than Keyser City Police Department officers. According to chief Paul Sabin, the earlier trend they saw at the beginning of the pandemic of people staying home and out of trouble has recently been replaced with a busier than ever time for the local police department.
Not only do the Keyser City Police officers handle their normal calls, but they are also doing more and more medical calls due to COVID. Normally the officers assist EMS on calls that are considered a mental status change, where an individual may be combative, but now they are also responding to assist EMS on calls when the screening process shows a danger of COVID.
“We go to assist for safety precautions,” said Sabin.
“At the beginning of COVID, back in March, we barely received any calls,” he said. “People were staying home and it showed.”
As the pandemic spread into months, however, the officers could see the volume of calls increasing and increasing again.
“Uptake started back up in April and May of last year,” Sabin said. “Calls for service, which had been down, started to go up, and gradually there would be 50 more calls for service and then there would be 100 more calls, until we were right back to normal call amounts as before and then some.
“Obviously crimes and drugs weren’t going to stop forever,”he said. “Not even COVID was going to slow it for too long.”
The number of calls coming in for service over the last six months of 2020 were 2,749, which was drastically higher than the first six months of 2020. For January alone so far, officers have already responded to 347 calls for service.
The Keyser City Police struggles to meet the demands of that call volume with a short staff. Sabin said the current staff is half of what is should be, and officers work a lot of overtime to cover the calls.
The major thing impacting the shortness in staff is the low salary offered for starting officers. “I wanted to hire two officers last year,” said Sabin. “Yet the people I wanted to hire made more money where they were currently working than they would here with starting police officer pay.”
Sabin said that he is currently working with Keyser city administrator Jeff Broadwater to change that.
“We are looking at starting pay and officer pay to help with employee retention.” he said. The Keyser City police are now losing employees at an alarming rate to other agencies, including Potomac State College and the Mineral County Sheriff’s Department, both of which pay more. According to Sabin, they even lose officers to smaller community agencies that still pay more.
Sabin says he and the city administrator see the cost of investment in these officers, which they eventually lose to other agencies, as a big expense on the city.
“Retaining the officers we train is a must,” Sabin said.
From hire to start it takes upward of a year for an officer to begin and graduate the police academy and become a certified officer. The cost per officer is about $10,000 to outfit and pay for academy training. With that much time and money into each officers, the city wants to retain them so they are not lost to higher paying jobs.
Unlike larger agencies, Keyser PD doesn’t have different units like detective and K-9 units, where officers can move up and have an increase in pay. The officers that KPD hires have to do it all. They are traffic patrollers to crime scene investigators, and need to be knowledgeable in all without any pay incentive.
“Our officers cover everything form A-Z,” said Sabin.
The turnover rate was easily shown with PID numbers, Personal identification numbers that are assigned to each officer hired since 2005, when the system began. Counting the officers they have now, there have been 40 officers that have come and gone since 2005.
At $10,000 each, that is a significant cost to the city and the department. Making a competitive salery a must for the Keyser City Police, Sabin says.
The chief also pointed out that, when you count the overtime that officers are now forced to work to cover the shortage of staff, the cost is even higher than it needs to be. The city needs more officers to be hired, to keep overtime costs down and keep the city well protected.
With the current staff situation and the numbers of calls for service forever climbing, the salary for officers desperately needs addressed for the future of retaining officers that have been trained, Sabin said.