BENWOOD - Benwood's police officers are among the highest paid in the Ohio Valley, but that doesn't stop them from taking pay cuts to assume more exciting jobs elsewhere, according to Chief Frank Longwell.
Longwell said many of Benwood's veteran officers have retired in recent months - some after as long as 20 or 30 years of service. The city had attempted to fill police openings by hiring young officers still in their 20s.
But many of these young officers failed after being sent for training at the West Virginia State Police Academy in Institute, W.Va. Over a two-year period, Longwell estimates as many as 12 officers were sent for training, while just three passed and gained their police certification.
Photo by Joselyn King
Benwood Police Chief Frank Longwell holds a badge available to the next new hire.
And those who were successful and returned to duties with the police department soon found other jobs elsewhere after the city paid for their training, Longwell said.
The city is now concentrating on hiring middle-aged and retired officers who already have their police certification.
"Not everybody can be a small community police officer," Longwell said. "The young guys - they don't want to do that. They want to get out in a town where they have a long-range patrol area and other opportunities."
In Benwood, the area of patrol is 3.5 square miles, according to Longwell. In Marshall County, deputies cover 350 square miles.
He said one of his officers recently took a $7,000 salary cut to join the Marshall County Sheriff's Department's K-9 unit.
"Sometimes money is not the issue - it's opportunity," Longwell said. "They want to get into other stuff - K-9 units and drug taskforces."
Benwood employs six full-time officers, and three part-time law enforcement agents. They are paid $17.50 an hour and receive a full benefit package. The city even pays to have their uniforms dry-cleaned.
"You can make $40,000 a year here very easily, once you count your court time and overtime," Longwell said. "And our benefit package is about $28,000. Not too bad, for a city of 1,400 people. I know we pay more than larger departments, but money isn't everything .... It's all in what the individual wants to do. If you're coming here for a paycheck, most likely you won't make it through the academy. You have to really want to do this job to go through that training."
Benwood first hires its officers before sending them to the academy for the required 90 days of training, he said. Sometimes it takes months before the officer is accepted into the academy, and the city pays them for being on patrol while they await certification. New officers must have their certification from the West Virginia State Police Academy within one year of hiring, Longwell said. Tuition for each officer is $2,500, and the city must also supply their uniform and equipment.
Someone also must fill in for new officers on patrol while they are away at the academy at an increased cost to Benwood, he said.
"We don't mind spending and investing the money if they are going to stay," Longwell said. "But where we get upset is when they do get certified, then they leave."
He suggests West Virginia enact a law that if an officer trained in the state moves to another job within five years after a municipality has paid for his or her training, their new employer must reimburse the municipality for the training costs.