Chief Often Left Alone

BELLAIRE – When a report of a woman shot on Hamilton Street in Bellaire late Sunday afternoon turned out to be unfounded, Police Chief Mike Kovalyk was understandably relieved. But he couldn’t help but wonder what might have happened had there actually been an armed suspect on the run in the village.

“I was the only one working – again,” Kovalyk said with a hint of frustration.

With staffing limitations and a police department budget about to be cut by $100,000 come July so the cash-strapped village can keep its budget balanced, it’s not an uncommon situation.

Kovalyk said today will be his first day off in more than three weeks. Bellaire police have already dealt with multiple robberies and drug arrests this year, and with the weather warming up, he doesn’t expect things to slow down any time soon.

Bellaire’s police department consists of Kovalyk and eight other officers – but two of them have been off the job with injuries, Kovalyk said, making scheduling difficult.

“People have got vacations that they’ve worked for, and today’s a holiday. … You can only work them so many hours a day,” Kovalyk said, adding that long hours can sometimes make officers lose concentration.

It was the second time in less than a week that a potentially dangerous situation occurred when Kovalyk was the only one on duty, although the earlier incident presented a much more real threat. On April 14, he recovered a stolen semi-automatic handgun following a report of a group of males threatening to shoot people. The incident resulted in four arrests.

In such situations, Bellaire often has to rely on neighboring cities for backup. On Sunday, units from Bridgeport and Shadyside responded, much as they did during the stolen gun situation last week.

“I appreciate those guys coming as quickly as they did,” Kovalyk said.

A financial boost for the village could be on the way, as council earlier this year signed an oil and gas lease with Gulfport Energy, for about 66 acres in property scattered through Bellaire. The agreement provided an initial lease payment of about $470,000, with 20 percent production royalties that could eventually provide a steady stream of income.

Kovalyk said he hopes the oil and gas revenue will allow Bellaire to provide more resources for the police department.