MORGANTOWN — Two new deputies joined the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department after graduating from the State Police Academy July 20 completing a hiring process that can take up to a year.
The department has 40 deputies of which 32 are assigned to patrol duty across three shifts, Sheriff Perry Palmer said. The other eight deputies are assigned to special details such as the Mon Metro Drug Task Force, detective duty or schools.
Those 32 deputies are responsible for 365 square miles.
Palmer said the department is stretching its manpower, but the county commission is aware of the issue and has been working to continue to add officers. The department has the budget for one more deputy and is working with the commission to add at least four more he said.
One reason for the need in increased manpower is the lack of State Police in Morgantown. Palmer said the Morgantown barracks is low on officers and his department has had to pick up that slack.
“We answer all calls on the midnight shift,” he said.
The process from civilian to deputy isn’t a quick or easy one and positions can be hard to fill Palmer said.
“It takes a certain type of person to be an officer,” he said.
Putting on the uniform puts a target on your back and you won’t get rich as a sheriff’s deputy, Palmer said.
He said Monongalia County has the third highest pay for sheriff’s departments in the state. New deputies start at $40,848. Palmer credits the county commission for taking steps to increase deputy pay a few years ago.
The first step in becoming a deputy is filling out an application. Next applicants have to take the Civil Service Test and score 70 percent or above and a physical agility test which includes a one-and-a-half-mile run, push-ups and sit-ups.
Those two test scores are combined and the county clerk generates a priority list and the top three names are given to the department when its ready to hire Palmer explained.
The three candidates then go through a background check, an interview by detectives, an interview by administrative personnel and a psychological exam and a drug test – all must be passed.
Palmer said those steps can take a few months to complete. Then a successful candidate goes to the State Police Academy for 16 weeks unless that person is already a certified officer.
After graduating from the academy Palmer said the new deputies spend seven weeks with a field training officer and a checklist of task they need to complete before they can hit the road on their own.
All in all, it can take between 10 months to a year to fill an empty slot.
To complicate matters further, the academy only has classes at certain times and paperwork must be submitted within a window Palmer said.
And not all candidates make it through the academy.
S. Neff, one of the department’s two new members, said his class started with 60 people, 55 showed up and he graduated with 42.
“It weeds out those that don’t deserve to wear a uniform,” he said.
He said the academy was stressful and exciting and he went in mentally and physically ready for the challenge.
Neff said he first became interested in policing his junior year of high school when he took part in the Buckeye Boys State program, which gave him the opportunity to ride state police.
“This is what I want to do,” he said.