Starting a shift as the only officer on duty is nothing new for Barnesville Police Chief David Norris.
His department has seen several officers leave during the past few years to other agencies offering better pay or other industries such as coal or oil and gas.
"It's pretty crippling when you get (an officer) that has some experience and you get them where they know the town and know the people, they know the bad guys. ... You get them to where they are really doing a great job and then they are picked up by another agency that pays a good bit more than what we pay," he said.
Photo by Tyler Reynard
A Martins Ferry police cruiser sits outside the police department on South Fifth Street. Many smaller police departments in Ohio are facing staffing problems as low pay and other opportunities are luring officers to new careers.
Norris has been dealing with this problem for some time.
This year alone, Norris has lost three officers. Another problem has been finding applicants that will take the job at Barnesville's pay level.
"(I always) try to find the right fit with the (officers) I have and to fit into this town and into the job we do. It takes a special personality and it is just getting harder to find those people," he said.
During the interview process, Norris said he will come right out and tell the applicant what the pay is, and that any applicants tell him they can't take that much of a pay cut.
Norris is not the only chief in Belmont County that is facing this problem. Due to the lower wages, many officers enter a department to get experience and then move on.
Bellaire Police Chief Mike Kovalyk just informed village council at its Aug. 15 meeting that an officer had left for another agency. Another position, one that has sat vacant for a year, has yet to be filled.
The pay "depends on tax bases through the communities you live in," Martins Ferry Police Chief John McFarland said, who has 14 full-time officers and nine part-time officers. "I know there are other communities in Belmont County that are the same size as Martins Ferry, if not smaller, that make more money. It just depends on what part of the state you live in."
In many Belmont County departments, wages run from $10 to $12 per hour, depending on the full or part-time status of the officers.
"We are trying to be competitive so that we don't have officers leaving all the time, but in the past, we have been a training department to where officers come, we train them and then they leave for a better paying job," Bridgeport Police Chief Andy Klotz said.
The lack of new officers is forcing communities such as Martins Ferry, Bellaire and Bridgeport to work together, which Klotz said helps out tremendously.