- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - Interest in law enforcement work had declined dramatically in West Virginia in recent years as public scrutiny of police officers’ actions has increased, police officials in several localities said.

In the 1990s, more than 600 people showed up for entry-level exams for positions with the Kanawha County Sheriff’s Department. Last year, the department had fewer than 200 applicants, Chief Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Rutherford told The Charleston Gazette (https://bit.ly/13p6iP2 ).

Parkersburg Police Chief Joseph Martin and Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster reported similar declines.

In Parkersburg, the average number of applicants showing up for a written test has dropped from about 500 in the mid-1990s to 75 today, Martin said. During the same period, Webster said the number of applicants signing up for a written test in Charleston has fallen from more than 500 to sometimes fewer than 100.

“I think they realize that what they do would be so scrutinized to the point it’s not worth the trouble, and it’s not worth the headache . to become involved in the field,” Rutherford told the newspaper. “Quite often, people question you and call you everything under the sun including a racist simply because you make an arrest.”

Martin said officers today are expected to act perfect at all times, even when they are off-duty.

“The recent events in Ferguson and New York have brought even more negative publicity towards our profession,” Martin told the newspaper in an email. “This publicity has driven a wedge between the public and the officers that serve them. So the question now is who would want to subject themselves or their family to the constant scrutiny of the public?”

Kanawha County sheriff’s Cpl. Brian Humphreys said public scrutiny has always been part of the job.

“You’re always going to be somebody’s bad guy,” Humphreys told the newspaper. “When there’s an arrest that must be made, it’s never done in a vacuum. There’s always a negative effect of it. You may be arresting a criminal who has created victims, but you may also be removing a husband or father or wife or mother from a family that needs them. You’ll have to withstand that scrutiny and still do the right thing and follow the law.”

Becoming a police officer is a lengthy process that can dissuade some candidates. Pay also is a deterrent, Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston said.

Recruiting also is hampered by difficulty in finding candidates who can pass drug tests and background checks, police officials said.

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Information from: The Charleston Gazette, https://www.wvgazette.com

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