Staffing shortfall remains MPD’s top challenge

MORGANTOWN — During a recent state-of-the-department update before Morgantown City Council, Police Chief Eric Powell said staffing issues remain the number-one challenge facing the MPD. 

The department is allowed 79 officers. It currently has 59, meaning a quarter of the city’s police officer jobs are unfilled. 

“It’s tough. We’re low, manpower-wise,” Powell said. “A lot of the structure and a lot of the decisions I make as an administrator are really based on that. It really comes down to what I have and what I can do with what I have while trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy within a department and not trying to put too much on my guys and girls. It’s tough, especially being down 20.” 

He noted the city’s efforts to boost recruitment through a $10,000 hiring bonus for certified officers, the purchase of the former Defense in Depth facility as a training asset and the MPD’s participation in the national 30×30 initiative, which has established a goal of 30% female recruits by 2030. 

“This is not something that’s unique to Morgantown. Any department in this country is experiencing similar problems and similar challenges, including other local agencies,” Powell said, challenging the community to get involved in recruitment efforts. 

“Who do you want to see doing this job?” he asked. “I would say it’s all our responsibility to select good officers and try to encourage people who are good people to be police officers.”  

While the number of available officers remains low, the demand is constant. 

Broken into two 12-hour shifts, the MPD responded to 15,699 calls for service, made 389 arrests, issued 256 non-traffic citations and 833 traffic citations, and conducted 1,014 foot patrols — including 765 downtown foot patrols — between Jan. 1 and July 2. 

Powell conceded the department has dealt with its fair share of controversies and criticisms in recent years originating both from internal and external sources.

Most recently, on March 6, the members of the Monongalia and Preston County Lodge #87 of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) issued a press release stating they had taken a vote of “no confidence” in Powell’s leadership.

While the FOP said the vote was the result of longstanding issues, matters reached a tipping point following public comments made by the chief during a Feb. 29 meeting of the Morgantown Citizen Police Review and Advisory Board, regarding a case study performed by the body.

Even with these challenges, Powell said he believes the MPD conducts itself with a sense of pride and professionalism that remains attractive to potential officers. 

“Over a certain amount of time that will be recognized by those seeking careers in this field. I think it’ll pay off. You may not see immediate results. You may not be able to quantify it right away, but I think in the long run all those things are going to help with our struggles with respect to recruitment and retention,” he said. 

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