By Jolene Craig
Special to The Times
BELPRE - Belpre City Council's Police and Finance Committee Monday broke the ice and started discussions regarding the city's need for another police officer.
Following a request from Police Chief Ernie Clevenger and Mayor Mike Lorentz, the committee began talks to see if there is money available to afford another officer.
"We have fewer officers now than when I started seven years ago," said Sgt. Michael L. Stump with the Belpre Police Department. "We need a 10th officer to cover rotations."
The discussions were about whether council should follow Lorentz's request to increase the city's manpower ordinance from 37 to 38 city employees.
Last month, council passed the final reading of the manpower ordinance, which is state-required legislation that authorizes how many employees the municipality is allowed to have during the year. The ordinance can be amended throughout the year with approval from council.
Belpre's manpower has decreased by three employees in the past few years as police officers have left the department without being replaced. In 2006, the Belpre Police Department employed 11 officers and, in an attempt to keep citizens safe while saving funds, positions have been cut from the roster.
"Rather than have us work overtime, we would like one more person," Stump told council. "I have spoken with other officers and there is so much going on here that we don't have the manpower to investigate all of the drug issues going on."
Stump said he knows drug gangs go through Belpre and Parkersburg, including Mexican cartels and domestic groups out of Chicago, Detroit and Miami.
"There are more drug crimes going on here than we can investigate in the course of our shift because we are dealing with other issues that are also important," he said. "If we cannot take care of drug problems, all of the other crimes come with it."
Clevenger said, according to national statistics for a city Belpre's size in the geographic region, there should be 3.5 officers per thousands residents, or 23 officers for the city's 6,700 residents.
"I know it isn't possible, but one more officer would really make a difference to the department and the people of Belpre," Clevenger said.
In 2013, the city spend roughly $100,000 on overtime in the police department, which Stump said would pay for two full-time officers.
"Manpower issues are officer safety issues," Stump told council. "By the grace of God, no one has gotten hurt, but statistically, it is only a matter of time."