CHARLESTON – Having spent the past five months consulting with professionals across the state who work to protect vulnerable and abused children, the members of the Legislature’s Select Committee on Crimes Against Children are seeking funding for a new class of state troopers.
“Our State Police has a special unit dedicated to preventing and resolving crimes against children, but they are understaffed and overburdened,” said Committee Chairwoman Linda Phillips. “We need to ensure that a new class of state troopers graduates so we can move some of the experienced officers over to the Crimes Against Children Unit.”
Chairwoman Phillips, D-Wyoming, was joined by Vice Chairwoman Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, and Minority Chairwoman Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire, in announcing the goal.
“We are in agreement that finding a way to pay for more troopers is essential to the fight against child abuse and exploitation,” Delegate Fleischauer said.
Delegate Rowan added, “We have received a great deal of compelling information from the troopers with this special unit. They are truly dedicated to the mission, but the unit is simply stretched too thin. It is crucial that we provide them with the manpower and tools to protect those that can not protect themselves."”
Fleischauer noted that both she and Chairwoman Phillips have served on the House Finance Committee and understand the difficulties of balancing the state budget in a challenging economy. It is estimated that training and equipping a class of 50 new troopers would cost about $5.7 million.
“We know we are going to have to be creative in finding the funding within our current revenue sources, but we believe it’s doable,” Fleischauer said.
During the last regular legislative session, members of the House of Delegates Women’s Caucus met weekly. They discussed a wide variety of problems related to women’s health and children living in poverty, and determined their immediate focus should be on crimes against children. The caucus introduced House Resolution 33, calling for the special study.
Speaker Tim Miley appointed the members of the House of Delegates Women Caucus to the Select Committee on Crimes Against Children in July. The committee has met monthly during the Legislature’s interim sessions.
Committee member Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, said she is encouraged by the unanimity among the committee members.
“I am thrilled that members of both parties have come together on this,” Delegate Poore said. “Because something as vital as the well being of our children should not be a partisan or political issue. We have to do everything we can to help our law enforcement and court system shield and protect those who are most vulnerable: young children.”