MORGANTOWN — West Virginia State Police troopers in Monongalia County will no longer be assigned to 911 calls starting Monday, as they face the realities of decreased staffing.

That means most county-based emergency calls will go through the Mon County Sheriff’s Department, though officials said there is no reason for locals to panic.

“Every call is going to get handled,” Sheriff Perry Palmer said.

State Police leaders said troopers will still handle emergency calls when possible.

The West Virginia State Police has a presence in every county, with the Morgantown detachment on Monongahela Boulevard. Many detachments have seen dwindling numbers through the years, as state funding dries up and new cadets aren’t trained.

Several years ago, the Morgantown detachment had more than 20 troopers; today, there are about 10.

“The problem begins and ends with manpower and funding,” according to Capt. James Stout, commander of Troop 1 for the State Police.

Troop 1 oversees detachments in north-central West Virginia and the northern panhandle. Stout provided a lengthy response to questions from The Dominion Post about the change in policy.

Several years ago, State Police agreed to work with dispatch agencies in most areas to help answer 911 calls, according to Stout. Those agreements were as secondary dispatches and troopers responded to a mutually agreed-to number of calls.

Budget issues persisted in the years since. Stout noted the newest troopers are in their fourth year of service, without a new class behind them. (Gov. Jim Justice made an announcement during last week’s State of the State address that money was in place for a new cadet class.)

Under the change, troopers will not be assigned emergency calls by MECCA 911 dispatchers. State troopers will handle calls from their detachments and their own dispatchers. According to Stout, troopers will still monitor 911 frequencies and still respond to emergency calls when possible.

It is not possible to handle previous volumes of calls without additional manpower, according to Stout.

People who live and/or work in Mon County should continue to expect to see troopers working in the county and there is no plan to reduce manpower in Morgantown. There are also no plans to close the detachment.

“The State Police is committed to maintain a strong presence in Mon County,” according to Stout.

MECCA 911 Director Jimmy Smith said state troopers responded to 8,148,911 calls in 2017. Over the same time, the Monongalia County Sheriff’s Department responded to 38,389 calls. With the change, the sheriff’s department is looking at roughly a 25 percent jump in calls.

“This is going back to the way it used to be,” Smith said.

Dispatchers assigned cases to State Police for the past decade, Smith said. The switch returns the procedures to what they were before the agreements were in place.

At this point, there isn’t a large concern about a jump in response time, Smith said. He said he and Palmer discussed the change and they believe the department will handle the calls.

Palmer said there is little doubt the decision will have an impact on his department.

“It will strain our manpower,” he said.

The department has five or six deputies working every shift, but they cover 365 square miles in Monongalia County, Palmer said. Deputies also have to work on calls that come directly to the department or have case reports to complete, Chief Deputy Al Kisner said.

Non-emergency calls will be prioritized — as has always been the case, Palmer said. If a deputy is working on a non-emergency and something immediate is reported, he or she will respond to the pressing matter, Palmer and Kisner said. The department will also review its efficiency at handling calls.

Even with the change, Palmer said all 911 calls will be answered and deputies will continue to work with professionalism.

Palmer stressed there will still be police coverage throughout the county.

The department informed the county commission about the decision and together they are looking at ways to improve the manpower issue.

Mon County Commission President Tom Bloom said the commission will review manpower and the call volumes to determine how to handle the increase.

“We will make sure, no matter what, there is coverage,” he said.

Bloom also chastised the state for discussing a reduction in property taxes while now reducing state police. The state government is improving, but on the backs of counties, he said.