Editorials, Opinion

Fair pay, opportunity and respect

That’s all officers ask for

Last Sunday, The Dominion Post detailed the myriad complaints from Morgantown police officers against the City of Morgantown. Chief among the grievances was a series of policy changes that will cut officers’ pay: significantly less paid overtime and use-it-or-lose-it paid time off. But the underlying issue is that Morgantown’s police don’t feel supported and respected by the city, and that has caused officers to leave the force in droves.

The solution to stop the flood of resignations is simple: Give the Morgantown Police Department the support and respect it’s asking for.

In the past, we have discussed the “defund the police” movement and the Civilian Police Review and Advisory Board. We still support the premise of demilitarizing police forces across the nation and that not every “emergency” requires armed officers, particularly if it’s a mental health emergency that most officers are not qualified to handle. We still support the review board. There should be nothing wrong with having accountability measures in place. Support for those ideals and support for local law enforcement are not mutually exclusive. We can advocate for both at the same time.

The City of Morgantown doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo that it is an employees’ market, not an employers’. Just like any business in town, the city has to offer competitive wages and attractive benefits to draw workers in. The recent policy changes that don’t allow officers to collect overtime until after they’ve worked 40 hours in a week (instead of getting overtime after eight hours on shift) and cap PTO to force them to use it or lose it aren’t exactly what potential recruits want to hear.

Even though police shortages are statewide, Morgantown has been hit particularly hard, which means it is Morgantown that needs to step up to meet officers halfway — and that, in turn, may mean undoing the recent changes.

But since this is a statewide problem, the State of West Virginia needs to step up, too. Vance Lipscomb, Monongalia County Sheriff’s chief deputy of civilian operations, pointed out the only training academy in West Virginia is the W.Va. State Police Academy in Dunbar, just outside Charleston, so if a recruit can’t get in there, they just don’t get in. Obviously, the state needs to open more police academies.

Even if travel and overnight stay expenses weren’t a factor, having only one training facility is a detriment to the state, because it can only prepare so many future officers at one time. Placing additional police academies in each region (like Wheeling in the northern panhandle, Martinsburg in the eastern panhandle,  Lewisburg in the southeast, etc.) would not only exponentially increase the number of officers who can be trained, but will make policing a more attractive option by allowing them to train close(r) to home.

We understand money doesn’t grow on trees, but certain things are worth the investment. Our first responders — from law enforcement to firefighters to paramedics — are always worth the expense.