By GREG JORDAN
PRINCETON — In addition to patrolling the state’s highways and investigating crimes such as robbery and burglary, West Virginia’s state troopers also address crimes against those who are least able to defend themselves — children. To help make these efforts more effective, the West Virginia State Police hopes to bring more investigators to the Crimes Against Children Unit.
As part of his State of the State address, Gov. Joe Manchin asked the Legislature to fund six additional troopers and one civilian analyst for the Crimes Against Children Unit. Each of the W.Va. State Police’s six troops could receive an extra trooper to help investigate child sexual abuse, neglect, physical abuse and other cases involving children.
In Mercer and McDowell counties, the state police have a good working relationship with the state Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) and Child Protective Services (CPS), said Sgt. M.D. Clemons, who investigate child abuse and neglect cases with the detachment in Princeton. Having another trooper would help such investigations.
“Unfortunately, there are enough abuse cases — physical, sexual — that one trooper could focus on that,” Clemons said.
The detachment has a steady stream of new cases to check.
“To be honest, I probably receive at least one sexual assault referral every two weeks. Some turn out not to be substantiated, but I still have to investigate. You have to put in the same amount of effort and investigation until you find out yes or no. Child Protect is a very good to help us; they’re an excellent resource for law enforcement and for victims,” Clemons said.
State police and Child Protective Services work closely together “to make sure nothing falls through the cracks,” Clemons said. The CPS assists troopers with tasks such as interviewing alleged victims and working with child advocacy centers such as Child Protect in Mercer County. The agency also provides counseling once the case is completed.
Senate Bill 386 and House Bill 4397 in the West Virginia Legislature both propose increasing the minimum number of troopers to 800 officers by July 1, 2014, said John Smith Jr., president of the West Virginia Troopers Association.
Current statistics show that criminals currently have an 84 percent chance of committing a major crime without being arrested in West Virginia, Smith said. Increasing the number of state troopers could reduce that statistic.
“Without adequate state trooper manpower, we’re unable to provide the cover and protection that West Virginians deserve,” Smith said. “There are 33 state police detachments in West Virginia that have five troopers or less that are expected to provide 24/7 coverage. “That’s unacceptable.”