West Virginia lags far behind neighboring states in the quality of the law enforcement equipment provided to state police field troopers that a new private foundation has vowed to update.
The West Virginia Police Safety Foundation recently began a $3 million fund-raising campaign to buy state police troopers bulletproof vests, hand-held portable radios and secondary weapons like nightsticks and pepper spray canisters.
While applauding the foundation's campaign at a press conference Thursday, West Virginia Troopers Association President Rick Gillespie called the state's outfitting of state police a shame.
"I feel the state has an obligation to fund this at 100 percent, and at the time that's not being done. I commend the folks who have attempted to find a way to get us the items we need to carry out our jobs to protect the citizens," Gillespie said.
"We haven't provided them with the necessary
tools to do the job that we have
commissioned them to do."
Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia already issue to their troopers most of the equipment the foundation is considering for West Virginia state police, calls by the Daily Mail to state police and highway patrol agencies in those states revealed.
Each of those states gives every state trooper a bulletproof vest.
Those states also equip every state cruiser with a hand-held radio that pops out of the vehicle's radio unit.
And every state bordering West Virginia supplies a semiautomatic pistol containing 10 or more clip-fed shots to its state troopers. West Virginia troopers receive a six-shot, .357-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver.
West Virginia, Minnesota and Oklahoma are the only states in the country still using service revolvers rather than semiautomatic pistols, according to Gerry Smith, Smith & Wesson's law enforcement support manager in Springfield, Mass.
Pennsylvania and Mississippi are switching from service revolvers to semiautomatic pistols, Smith said.
The kinds of secondary weapons varies from state to state, but every state provides its officers with either a nightstick or some sort of assault spray cannister. Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania provide both to their troopers.
When West Virginia state police troopers leave their cars they have only their fists or their firearms in an emergency, Trooper C.R. Bedwell said at the news conference Thursday
"We have been able to brag about West Virginia's finest and the fact that we have such a safe state in which to reside," Ruth Lemmon, secretary for the foundation, said. "But we haven't provided them with the necessary tools to do the job that we the citizens of this state have commissioned them to do."
Foundation officials say they will let the state troopers pick the equipment they need from the money that is raised. The troopers' association handed over the foundation's largest donation yet - $20,000.
The money came from troopers' association dues and contributions from the Tennessee-based Smoky Mountain Secrets Inc. and Police Publications, Inc. of Massachusetts, Gillespie said.
The troopers association probably won't be able to contribute money to the fund again until July, 1994, Gillespie said.
State police officials have identified the bulletproof vests and hand-held radio units as the top priorities among the desired equipment.
"Obtaining vests for the troopers is our No. 1 priority," said West Virginia State Police Deputy Superintendent Gary Griffith.
"Another one of our priorities is to provide personal radios to our troopers"
Some West Virginia state police do have bulletproof vests, but they are not standard Issue for every trooper.
Members of the agency's Criminal Investigation Division recently procured vests with federal money because of their frequent participation in drug investigations, Griffith said.
And about 10 years ago, a few bulletproof vests were bought to be shared in each detachment Griffith said. But the lifespan of the vests is shorter than 10 years, he said.
Other state troopers have spent their own money on bulletproof vests, Griffith said.
If the entire $20,000 from the troopers association were spent by the foundation on bulletproof vests, it would buy about 50 for the 496 state police, a troopers association press release said. Gillespie estimated the cost of each vest at $400.
Troopers see hand-held radios as essential to their job as well.
Of 480 state police cruisers, 80 contain radios with a clip-off portable unit a trooper can remove from the car on a call. That's one police cruiser In six.
The hand-held radio units cost a few thousand dollars because, they must be bought as part of a cruiser's radio package. The small radio that clips onto a trooper's belt sends a signal back to the cruiser', which has a more powerful repeater that transmits the signal to police headquarters.
During the press conference, Gillespie recalled the death of Trooper Larry Hacker, who was shot while responding to a domestic dispute in April. "He had no hand-held radio to call for help,' Gillespie said.