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Police face uncertainty with opening of regional jail

by James Fisher

STAFF WRITER

When the new regional jail in Doddridge County opens next month, local and county officials know what to expect -- the unexpected.

"We just don't have a lot of hard information right now because none of us have ever done this before," Clarksburg Police Chief John Walker said. "None of us have the experience and there's really no way to compare our situation to any other city that's already using a regional jail."

Harrison County Sheriff Jim Jack said he has researched other counties of similar size, but the information is all but useless for predicting how taking prisoners to Doddridge County will affect his and other departments. While other counties may be similar in size or population, he said, no county's situation is exactly that of Harrison's.

"Some have more or less deputies, or are closer or further from their regional jail or have holding facilities," he said.

As of right now, Harrison County officials have no plans to operate a holding facility in the old county jail, although Jack plans to request some type of space for keeping prisoners temporarily.

Monongalia County officials have decided to operate a "processing center" for all the county's departments, said administrator Diane DeMedici. To help defray the operating costs, each municipal department will kick in a percentage, she said. That way, each department won't be making their own runs to West Union, which should help save on transportation costs. It will also keep officers in their own jurisdictions, one of the major concerns of most area law enforcement officials.

"Let's say, for example, that Shinnston (police) make an arrest. It would leave Shinnston unmanned if they have to send an officer to West Union," said State Police Sgt. Gregg Lemasters. "If that happens, we're back to prioritizing calls to cover the areas. We're used to doing that, but we shouldn't have to do it because they're transporting a prisoner."

Shinnston Police Chief Michael Secreto believes that increased transportation times and costs may result in fewer arrests being made in all the municipalities.

He said officers may start writing more municipal tickets to avoid having to drive to West Union unless the situation is absolutely necessary.

Bridgeport Police Chief Jack Clayton said his biggest immediate concern is officer safety. Transporting felons and females requires two officers to make the trip, he said. That wasn't a huge problem when the trip was just to downtown Clarksburg, he said. Longer travel time to West Union will probably result in some kind of changes to protect the officers' safety, he said.

Fairmont Police Chief Ted Offutt said officials in Marion County are looking at several transportation options, including combining trips with other departments and maybe other counties.

"If Monongalia officers are coming through with just one prisoner, they may be able to stop and collect some of ours. If we're going down, maybe we could meet them somewhere on (Interstate) 79 and take theirs," he said. "It could be like mutual aid."

Aside from expecting the unexpected, area officials have another thing in common -- a wait-and-see approach.

"We just need some time to see exactly how all of this is going to work," said Harrison County Administrator Jim Harris.

Staff writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com.

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