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Official says State Police need 275 more troopers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Among the 698 troopers with the West Virginia State Police, there are 12 black men and one black woman.

Col. Jay Smithers, State Police superintendent, said he understands the agency needs to recruit more minority officers.

They need more troopers in general, though: 275, to be exact, he said.

"The best case scenario for us, as far as recruiting goes, is to educate members of the Legislature of the fact that we know, through our manpower study, that in order for us to legitimately do the task that by code we're called upon to do, we need an additional 275 people," Smithers said, citing a 2-year-old study.

Smithers and other State Police leaders presented information about the agency Monday morning at the Capitol for a meeting of the state Legislature's Select Committee on Minority Issues. Lawmakers are in town this week for legislative interim meetings.

Lt. Reggie Patterson is in charge of recruitment. He provided a breakdown of the agency's employees.

In addition to the low number of black troopers, Patterson also said only 18 white women are on the force. There are also five Hispanic men and one Hispanic woman, he said.

The Legislature appropriates money for the State Police. At about $108 million, it's not a meager budget. But Smithers said the agency is in "dire need" of more funding.

Lawmakers on committee specifically asked how much more money the state troopers actually need to address personnel problems and other issues. Smithers didn't provide an overall budget request but did break down costs for training and recruitment.

He's confident the State Police could annually target, recruit and train classes of 50 troopers each. That would cost about $11 million, said Capt. Bill Scott, in charge of planning and research for the agency.

"If we knew that that funding was available over the course of the next five years to the point where we could go out and target people in our areas of need, it would be a simple process," Smithers said.

The agency can tie its troubles with recruitment, especially of minority candidates, to funding issues, among other problems.

Patterson said recruiters recently vetted 53 people who were ready to take the class needed to become troopers, but funding constraints forced them to delay the class.

Right now, 26 remain. There are 36 positions funded by the Legislature that are vacant right now.

Smithers said they need the troopers, but that money has to go to other aspects of the budget. There are also at least 10 troopers who could retire in December, exacerbating the problem.

"As we stand still, other states are moving forward," Patterson said.

Other states are just as interested in recruiting minority candidates, he said. The State Police lacks consistency in its recruitment, placing doubts in the minds of potential troopers as to the possibility of employment.

Patterson is authorized to specifically target minority candidates, and he's gone to pastors in black communities, historically black colleges and other states for recruitment. There are also 25 troopers who work on recruitment part-time, compared with eight before Smithers became superintendent.

But a general lack of knowledge about what state troopers do, misperceptions about law enforcement in general and difficulties enticing candidates to head to areas in need -- McDowell County, for example -- complicate overall recruitment efforts.

It's common for a state agency to come to the Legislature with the hopes of more funding. Pointing to some of the questions lawmakers asked Monday, Smithers said increased advocacy is key to getting more money.

"We're equally at fault for not seeing the need to go to the key members of our Legislature and mapping it out for them, letting them know what our problems are today and what it's going to cost us down the road if we don't fix these problems," he said.

There are also about 400 civilian employees, Smithers said. There's only one black woman who works full-time, Patterson said. Another black woman and a black man also work part-time. 

The agency also needs at least $5 million for a new computer database at its South Charleston headquarters, Smithers said. He said the agency plans to continue to provide information about its funding to lawmakers during interim meetings until the start of the 2014 legislative session.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.

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