- The Washington Times - Friday, August 10, 2001

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark R. Warner took another swipe at Gov. James S. Gilmore III and his administration yesterday, saying that the Virginia State Police force is woefully understaffed and promising that he will fill the force's vacant positions if elected.
"I absolutely believe we need more patrolmen," Mr. Warner said. "We're operating at the levels of a decade ago [but] we've got a million more Virginians and the complexity of crime particularly as it relates to computer crime is much, much higher."
Mr. Warner was capitalizing on an issue that has suddenly been forced to the political forefront. State police reported 203 open positions out of 1,935 authorized or a vacancy rate of nearly 11 percent in a Sunday article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Yesterday, though, Superintendent Col. W. Gerald Massengill said there are actually 134 vacancies a 6.9 percent rate. The budget specifically authorizes 1,517 troopers, and 1,391 of those positions are filled a vacancy rate of 8.3 percent.
By comparison, North Carolina has 1,445 sworn positions authorized, of which 37 are vacant, and Maryland has 1,630 positions authorized, with 39 vacancies, spokesmen for both state police departments said.
Even though Virginia's reported crime continues to drop, Mr. Warner credited the decline to laws like one that prohibits buying more than one handgun a month and the abolition of parole. He placed blame for the police shortage at the feet of Mr. Gilmore and his administration which until June included Mr. Warner's opponent, Mark L. Earley, who resigned as attorney general to accept the Republican nomination for governor.
But administration officials said the staffing vacancies are the result of the governor and legislature approving so many positions and police being unable to fill them quickly due to the tight job market and long lag time up to 18 months between recruitment and graduation from the academy. Col. Massengill said the current staff of 1,801 is "more state police officers patrolling the highways or investigating crime in Virginia than at any time in Virginia State Police history."
Mr. Warner, who is on vacation with his family in western Virginia and spoke to reporters by telephone conference call, has asked that Mr. Gilmore authorize state police to give both him and his Republican opponent, Mark L. Earley, a briefing on staffing and other state police issues similar to the intelligence briefing given to presidential candidates.
But a spokesman for Mr. Earley said after having served for 10 years in the state Senate and then serving as state attorney general until June, the Republican is already well versed in those issues and will be the "champion" for state police and other law enforcement in Virginia.
"Public safety is one of the core functions of state government, and Mark Earley has been there on the front lines standing with law enforcement in his capacity as attorney general. This is not an area for on-the-job-training," said David Botkins, Mr. Earley's spokesman.
Mr. Gilmore also weighed in with criticism of Mr. Warner and his "blissful ignorance" of state government the second time this week they have gone after each other.
"Mr. Warner certainly appears to need more information to get his facts straight, but that is exactly why the people of Virginia cannot afford someone who needs on-the-job training in every aspect of state government as their next governor," Mr. Gilmore said in a statement.


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