W.Va. Police Officers to Share Foot Patrol until Staffing Improves

March 8, 2023
Morgantown's police chief is requiring the day and afternoon shifts to have one officer patrolling the downtown after a staffing shortage led to the elimination of dedicated foot patrol officers.

MORGANTOWN, WV—Morgantown Police Chief Eric Powell said Tuesday the department will return dedicated foot patrols to the city's downtown once the department reaches adequate staffing levels to do so.

In the meantime, he added, the existing roster of officers is going to share that responsibility.

Powell explained that he put out a memo this past Friday requiring the day and afternoon shifts to have one officer downtown between 9 a.m.-9 p.m.

Those officers will be required to make, and document, contact with business owners and patrol varied routes.

"This was born out of the concerns I was hearing, just anecdotally as well as directly, about people's experiences in the downtown area. We were trying to come up with some solutions as to how we could address our presence issue there, " Powell explained.

The Dominion Post reached out to the MPD the day prior to Powell's directive. Deputy Chief P.J. Scott said the removal of dedicated foot patrol officers downtown is simply a matter of staffing.

Powell admitted he struggled with the decision to pull officers out of the city's three patrol zones and explained officers on foot downtown may have to attend to more pressing calls at times.

"It's a difficult thing to pull a guy off ... an assigned zone and say you're going to be doing something else ; for a couple of reasons. But because of the situation I think it kind of warranted [this ], " Powell said. "Just the kind of level of anxiety that people were having about it. I think it's working out really well. It's obviously not a permanent way to address the problem, but it's the most effective way with what we have."

In December, Powell explained that 17 of 76 officer positions were unfilled. The department hired eight officers earlier this year, seven of which are either in the State Police Academy or the inaugural class of the Fairmont State law enforcement program.

Additionally, the city has 28 applicants prepared to undergo testing this weekend.

Officer recruitment and retention is an issue facing departments across the country, leading many to put an increased focus on attracting underrepresented demographics, like women, into the force.

That's the intent of the 30 ×30 Pledge, which Morgantown City Council has agreed to participate in.

Agencies that sign the pledge agree to look at everything from policy to recruitment and hiring strategy to agency culture in an attempt to attract, retain and promote female officers with a goal of having a 30 % female force within 30 years.

"Any department that isn't seeking to diversify what they've got already and make it better and make it more representative of the population it serves is doing themselves a disservice, " Powell said.

Women, like 17-year veteran Lieutenant Molly Linthicum, make up about 8 % of the MPD's force.

"I've always tried to recruit women as much as possible. I love my job. I always have, " she said. "I've always supported any women who came into our department, and we do have some pretty strong women who work for us."

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(c)2023 The Dominion Post (Morgantown, W.Va.)

Visit The Dominion Post (Morgantown, W.Va.) at www.dominionpost.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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