By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Governor Jim Justice along with several others recently came together to recognize and honor the one-hundredth year of the West Virginia State Police. According to the history found on www.WVSP.gov developed by Merle T. Cole, this organization, set forth by an act of Legislature, is the fourth oldest state police agency in the entire country. “Like the state which it serves, the WVSP was born in an era of political unrest and domestic violence,” wrote Cole. He continues to explain the struggles the implementation of a state police brought with it amongst the political world. “Governor John J. Cornwell was the single most influential person in assuring the adoption of the state police concept in West Virginia.(2) He had personally studied the effectiveness of the Pennsylvania and New York state police. Ignoring warnings from his political advisors of dire electoral consequences, he advocated formation of a police agency before both business and labor groups,” Cole explained.
Those in strongest opposition were the leaders of organized labor. Their argument was the tax burden it would cause, claiming to only be catering to the wealthy, and claiming the formation of this agency was solely to interfere with strikes and to intimidate the workers. However, much to their dismay, on March 24, 1919 the police bill passed the house and into the senate where it was voted to pass by 15 to 13. On March 31, Governor Cornwell signed the bill into law.
Significant work continued to develop a West Virginia Code that outlined and highlighted to duties of the new department. On June 29, 1919 the WVSP Creative Act came into effect. “It will also provide a basis for understanding the rationale and impact of later modifications of the act after its absorption into the West Virginia Code,” Cole wrote. The Governor then continued placing individuals into their new role within the department, including the first superintendent of the Department of Public Safety, Jackson Arnold. Arnold was the grand nephew of Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
Many things have occurred since that time, including the Mine Wars from 1919 – 1929, The Great Depression and Recovery, implementing traffic safety and handling an increase in criminal activity, prohibition, industrial unrest, disaster assistance, and war services. In October 1950, the first training course for officers made its debut. What started as a day of training quickly progressed to a twelve week, in service training. In January of 1970, construction concluded of an 80 bed dormitory to facilitate the cadets partaking in their training.
Between 1969-1979, the WVSP underwent redirection and reorganizational changes. The code was amended and illegal drugs became a major area of concern. In 1973, an aviation sector was added along with amendments made to the requirements at the academy. Supervisor authorities were also altered to fit the needs of the ever growing police force and to better handle the uprise in criminal activity, traffic safety concerns, and more.
The WVSP is laid out into field organizations. Tucker County falls into an organization along with Webster, Pocahontas, Barbour, Upshur, Hampshire, and Hardy Counties. According to the literature, each company is commanded by a captain and assisted by a lieutenant as executive officer. Districts, such as ours in Tucker County, are commanded by sergeants, with Sgt. G.S. DeWeese filling that role with nearly 16 years of experience. Also serving the Tucker County detachment is Corporal B.W. Burge, also with 16 years tenure, Corporal J.E. Kopec with 13 years, Trooper First Class (TFC) J.J. Schmidle with 11 years come August, and Office Assistant Michelle Hebb who has dedicated 32 years to the unit.
Also marking the celebration of the WVSP 100 birthday is the comeback of the motorcycle unit. Recently, several officers were partaking in training at Yeager Airport maneuvering their machines in and around obstacles and cones. There are very few of these trainings put on across the country each year by Harley Davidson and Northwestern University Center for Public Safety. The course takes two to three weeks, depending on the certification being sought. Though Tucker County won’t have their own trooper serving aboard an 800 pound machine, one of our former troopers, Sergeant Siler, will be joining the motorcycle unit through the Elkins detachment.
The Tucker County sector of the WVSP is working around the clock keeping our community safe. One of the bigger areas of focus is the uprising drug epidemics that are not just here, but statewide. Removing these harmful substances from our streets as well as educating the youth to make the right choices are all top priorities mentioned by Sgt. G.S. DeWeese upon his arrival in our county. A newer piece of equipment known as the Live Scan is located in our detachment aiding the troopers in faster booking and processing of detainees. While this specialty piece of equipment does not perform background checks, it will alert troopers to sex offenders and scan the AFIS (Automatic Fingerprint Identification System) data base.
If you desire more information regarding the history of the West Virginia State Police or would like information involving joining their force, you can refer to their website www.wvsp.gov