KEYSER, W.Va. — Prescription pills and heroin are the two biggest drug problems facing the city of Keyser, Police Chief Karen Shoemaker said Thursday.
“The number one drug is prescription pills, even above heroin,” she said at a meeting of the Keyser Rotary. “Most of our crime is the fact that people are stealing to get prescription pills.”
Although specific numbers weren’t provided, overdose deaths from heroin have skyrocketed both in Keyser and Cumberland, the chief said.
“We’ve seen it and the city of Cumberland has seen it — it’s been a huge problem,” Shoemaker said.
Keyser Police officers don’t currently carry the opioid overdose antidote naloxone, commonly referred to by the brand name Narcan, but Shoemaker believes every officer in the state will soon be provided with it and be given free training on how to use it.
“I remember when we just had to learn CPR, and it’s gone from that to carrying Narcan. That’s how much it has changed over the years,” she said.
In addition to combating drugs and drug-related crimes, the police department has to contend with a high officer turnover rate.
“I am proud of our department; we do struggle with equipment and the county trying to keep that turnover rate down. I’m proud of the work we do,” said Shoemaker. “When you say your prayers at night, say some for the police department.”
The department loses officers often to the Mineral County Sheriff’s Department and other area sheriff’s departments, which typically offer better pay and benefits, the chief said.
“With police work, my biggest frustration is I’m constantly competing with the county — we train them, we lose them,” said Shoemaker. “It’s so very, very hard.”
The sheriff’s department recently offered a $5,000, one-time bonus to new deputies and a $5,000 sign on package for anyone who is certified, Shoemaker said.
The department’s new hires are required to sign a three-year commitment to the city after they have completed training at the state police academy. It requires an officer to pay back money for training if they leave before those years are up.
The cost for academy training is $2,000 and doesn’t include the cost of travel expense to and from the academy for 16 weeks, the uniform costs and paying the officer’s salary.
“It takes a long time to be a good police officer. It’s not just the fact that you have an academy certificate,” said Shoemaker. “This has been my dilemma keeping folks long enough so that they can be good police officers.”
KPD officers were outfitted with both body cameras and in-car cameras beginning this week, according to Shoemaker.
“We went from a policeman’s word not being good enough to having video footage to prove that we did what we said we did,” said Shoemaker. “Our police department is the first one in the county to be equipped with body cameras.”
The body cameras cost about $400 a piece.
“I truly believe it (cameras) is a protection for the officer. When you have that on recording it keeps a good officer good and will rid out a bad officer,” she said.
In 1992, Shoemaker became the first female municipal police officer in Mineral County. She was appointed chief in 2002 and is the only female chief in the state.
“I really enjoy my work still,” she said. “I still feel like we are a small town approachable bunch.”