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West Virginia State Police Request Funding To Hire Additional Troopers

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Short-staffing is an issue in companies, organizations and corporations nationwide. But it becomes a community issue when it puts public safety and the well-being of children at risk.

Sergeant Michael Baylous with the West Virginia State Police said the agency currently has roughly 660 troopers, but Colonel Jay Smithers is asking state legislatures for funding to hire an additional 275 troopers.  Baylous said staffing is an issue that most West Virginia State Troopers feel the effects of. 

According to Baylous, the Crimes Against Children Unit is one of the most important missions of the agency. He said the current unit is made up of just 14 investigators that are responsible for covering child-related crimes across the state.

Baylous said it's a problem that keeps him and other troopers awake at night.

"I go home at nights after reading some of these incident reports and I'm physically ill," said Sgt. Michael Baylous with the West Virginia State Police.

Child pornography is an all too common crime that he said is often sensitized in press releases and news reports. 

"Imagine a 3-year-old toddler being held down, it's being videoed, and they are being raped and screaming for help," Baylous said.

He said troopers are sometimes stuck choosing between the lesser of two evils, as there just isn't enough help to fully investigate every case. 

"All of these are horrific. But often times we have to go after just the egregious ones," Baylous said.

When it comes to children, Captain J. H. Merrill said that situation is just unsettling.

"How can you choose? That child is being victimized and they need our help," said Captain J. H. Merrill with the West Virginia State Police.

In just six months, the Crimes Against Children Unit completed 700 interviews and made more than 100 arrests. Sgt. Michael Baylous said that's barely scratching the surface of a problem that affects thousands of children statewide.

"I have trouble going to bed at night knowing that there's more that we can do," Baylous said.

It's not just that unit that's struggling though.  Baylous said the funding would help move veteran troopers into the Crimes Against Children Unit, and take the burden off of other troopers who still need to respond to daily patrols.  

Several detachments are operating with three or fewer troopers. Three troopers at 40 hours per week covers 120 hours of a 168 hour week, leaving 48 hours un patrolled every week. Simple math; that leaves 48 un patrolled hours every week.

"Two to three guys for 24/7, it's just impossible," Merrill said

Merrill said some of his troopers cover multiple counties and while they're doing their best to make up for manpower, there's not much they can do to make up for travel time.

"Even running lights and sirens, it's going to take an hour to get there," Merrill said

In a field where seconds can mean life or death, troopers said minutes are just not acceptable.

Officers also said that assuming every call requires just one trooper is misleading. Domestics, murders and violent crimes often require two or more officers to assist in backup. Baylous said this can put troopers at risk too, especially when the nearest backup may be an hour away.

"That's just not safe. We need to consider officer safety as well as public safety," Baylous said.

Despite those statistics and frustrations, Merrill said his men and women spend their time focusing on how to best serve the community instead of complaining about the situation. He also said the issue of man power isn't a new issue as the department has been operating with the same amount of troopers since the 1980s. However, he said the issue is getting worse as the population continues to grow.

Baylous and Merrill asked the public to support the agency by contacting legislatures and asking them to show their support.