Letter to the Editor: Keyser has a long history of good police departments

Staff Writer
Mineral Daily News-Tribune
Mineral Daily News-Tribune

To the Editor:

A few weeks ago you published an article stating your opinion on the defunding of police. I greatly agreed with your opinion.  

After I read your opinion piece on the city council debating to eliminate our police department, I had to drop you a note to tell you that I thought you hit the nail on the head and thank you for both articles.  

I have friends in Westernport that would also agree with you.

Promises may be made, but sheriffs and county commissioners do change. Will their successors agree with any agreements made?  Who will answer the “nuisance” calls such as parking complaints, blocked driveways or noise complaints and neighborhood disputes?  Will they get the same attention?

         The people of Keyser have had a long history of some form of law enforcement. I can trace it back 146 years to 1874 when John Payne was appointed to the position of “Town Sergeant.” His duties included tax collection and the conservation of the peace. I might add that he was very well paid for his services. His salary was $2,000 a year, which would be pretty substantial in today’s dollars. The town did not appear as it does today. The corporate limits stopped in the area of Fort Avenue. I would imagine that this pretty much strapped the council of that day.

       The Town of Keyser and the Town of South Keyser merged in 1913 and became the City of Keyser. The charter called for a Department of Public Affairs and Public Safety.  This is the beginning of the present structure of the city’s police department.  

Ginger Davis had joined the police department of the Town of Keyser in 1905. He was appointed Chief of Police of the town in 1908 by Mayor Richard Welch. Upon the merger into the City of Keyser, he was retained as the first chief under that charter. He was joined by three full time and two part time officers.

 I would imagine that this was a huge financial drain on the city.  After all, the area of the city wasn’t near the size of today. I might add that this was six years prior to the formation of the West Virginia State Police. The West Virginia State Police, being the second oldest state police agency in the country, was founded in 1919.

      The police department has quite a history of being a leader in this section of the state. One example is In 1924 two men left Alaska (Fort Ashby), headed to Keyser. Only one returned home. Several days later a letter was received by the missing man’s parents. It was postmarked from Virginia and stated that their son had joined the military. It didn’t sit well with his parents and they called Sheriff Nethkin.  Nethkin needed help and turned to the Keyser police. Chief Davis agreed to assist. He learned that the man who had returned home had forged a bank check. Davis compared the handwriting on the check against the letter received by the missing man’s parents. Davis determined that both articles had been written by the same man.  

Using this as leverage during an interview with the man, he lead the officers to the missing man’s body along Rt.  46.  During the trial Chief Davis appeared in Circuit Court and gave what is believed to be the first expert testimony on document examination in this county.

             In 1928, the police department was instrumental in the first traffic light in Keyser. This was at the intersection of Main and Armstrong streets, a very busy intersection at the time, It greatly enhanced both pedestrian and motorist safety. It was such a success that shortly later a second light was erected at Piedmont and Mineral. Being near the public schools, this improved safety of the school children.  

The Police Department of that time should have been thanked.

            There are many examples of the police department’s leadership over the years. Taking the lead in law enforcement training. Working with RESA and the FBI, the training was open to all agencies in the region at no cost. It actually saved money due to the elimination of tuition and travel costs.  State and federal programs such as STEP (Selective Traffic Enforcement Program} and DELTA (Directed Enforcement to Lower Traffic Accidents} were pursued and obtained. These programs paid overtime wages to officers willing to participate. This placed more officers on the street at no cost to the city.  

The police department maintained good relations with the powers that be in Charleston. When any such programs became available, the department received calls from Don Davison of the Governor’s Committee on Crime, Delinquency and Corrections in order to offer them to the city. This too, helped the city financially.

             I’m sure that the present day council is strapped, but all of the councils of the past were too. I just can’t see eliminating a good department. It reminds me of your first article on defunding the police. We have a very good police department, after 146 years of relative safety; do the people of Keyser deserve losing their police department? Does this encourage a vigilante lifestyle? Maybe the liability from an extended wait for service should be investigated? I think we are better than all of this. After all, this is not Minneapolis.

Gary Stewart