Vacancy, K9, tactical gear needs discussed at commission

County commission hears from Sheriff Virgil Miller.

BUCKHANNON — Upshur County Sheriff Virgil Miller spoke with the Upshur County Commission on Thursday, August 25, for agenda appointment “approval of advertisement for the purpose of accepting applications for admission to competitive examinations to be utilized as part of the criteria to establish an eligibility list for appointment to entry level position of Deputy Sheriff.” During Sheriff Miller’s speech, he did report that the outlook is bleak. Upshur County Chief Deputy Sheriff Mike Coffman also spoke to Commissioners regarding K9 and tactical gear needs.

Sheriff Miller said, “As you are aware, Dan Barcus resigned last month and went to Barbour County, so we have an open position. We had three names initially to begin with and one of those the Buckhannon Police Department hired. We also declined two others. We don’t have an active Civil Service list and spoke with the President of the Civil Service Commission, Steve Nanners about proceeding forward to advertise, test and obtain a certified list.”

“As far as looking at the academy to get someone it looks pretty bleak, I mean really bleak. They have two classes scheduled in January of 2023 and then the next one is scheduled into August of 2023. The classes are not keeping up with the demand for agencies throughout the state. As you are aware by the time, we do obtain someone from the academy. There is still a training period with us before they would go out their own,” said Sheriff Miller. 

Sheriff Miller also noted that overall, it looks like the position may not be filled for an extended period of time up to 18 months. “The only saving grace is that maybe we get an officer who is already certified and wants to come here,” said Sheriff Miller.

It was also reported by Sheriff Miller that if the academy does not increase the number of troopers, the West Virginia State Police will be down approximately 180 officers next year. He estimated that currently that number is down by about 60. 

Following the discussion, the commissioners approved the advertisement as indicated. Applications are due no later than Friday September 16.

After Sheriff Miller exited the podium, Chief Deputy Coffman entered to discuss the Upshur County Sheriff’s Department K9 and tactical gear needs. Chief Deputy Coffman said, “This is something that the Sheriff and I have been talking about for quite some time actually. We had spoken before and what we had decided was to write a department of homeland security grant for these items. I believe the first one on the agenda is for the K9 so we will talk about that one first.”

“Our K9 is several years old and health is pretty poor and what we are requesting is to replace the K9. It is not just Upshur County, but just like surrounding counties we got turned down and did not get any funds from the grants. There are multiple companies that we have looked into, including the company that Buckhannon Police Department used which is up in Pennsylvania, and for the K9 and training (and training for the officer) it comes to $21,500. Another option used by various counties ranges from $12,000 to $16,500,” said Chief Deputy Coffman.

Chief Deputy Coffman also noted that there is importance in replacing their current K9 A.J. with the situations law enforcement has been encountering in the area. It was reported that the veterinarian raised concern over the health of the dog and would need to be retired by the fall of 2022. The K9 will be a dual-purpose dog utilized for aspects, such as tracking and for drugs. Chief Deputy Coffman clarified that aside from the initial purchase and training for the K9 and handling officer, there would not be additional costs as those are already budgeted and include things like food and veterinary visits.

Commissioners discussed details with Chief Deputy Coffman and ultimately decided to table the decision for K9 secondary to provide time for the Sheriff’s Department to confirm costs with various kennels. Chief Deputy Coffman obliged and noted the office just did not want to sacrifice any quality of said K9.

Chief Deputy Coffman then began to speak on the needs for tactical gear. “There has been a lot going on in our area, including officer safety and the need for tactical gear. Harrison County just had a shooting at a funeral home when the trying to service a warrant. There have been 186 officer involved shootings (officers shot and or killed in the line of duty) and that could include multiple officers but there has been a total of 186 incidents. It is definitely something that is on the increase and something in the area that it on the increase,” said Chief Deputy Coffman.

Chief Deputy Coffman confirmed that the current equipment the department uses was purchased with a grant in 2006. “The incident on the interstate that I was shot was with a 308 and the vest that I had on would not have stopped that. The vests that we are looking at purchasing have rifle plates and will stop that,” he shared.

Other information discussed including upgrading helmets and magnifiers for rifles, etc. Chief Deputy Coffman summarized shooting events locally, which also included multiple incidents in Nicholas County, a pursuit in Beckley and just across the border in Kentucky, multiple incidents on I-79. “We are not exempt. It is here,” said Chief Deputy Coffman.

It is estimated that gear would total nearly $4,800 per officer and there are 12 officers total. Following discussion, the commission approved funding towards enhanced tactical gear through ARP funds.

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