Parkersburg receives grant for PRO officers

PARKERSBURG – The city police department has been awarded a justice department grant to allow Prevention Resource Officers (PRO) to be placed into the Wood County School System’s three Parkersburg middle schools.

Booth Goodwin, U.S. Attorney for Southern District of West Virginia, also with Parkersburg Mayor Bob Newell, police Chief Joe Martin and Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law made the announcement during a joint press conference at the Parkersburg City Building Monday morning.

“Keeping kids safe is a priority,” Goodwin said. The Sandy Hook incident was an urgent call for safety, he said. “Preventing school violence is what we are after.”

The grant will allow PRO officers to be placed at Edison, Hamilton and VanDevender middle schools. That’s in addition to officers that already staff Parkersburg, Parkersburg South and Williamstown high schools.

The Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant will provide more than $340,000 to the city over a three-year period to fund new school resource officer positions. The grant provides about $130,000 this year to allow the city to hire three additional officers.

The grant will provide federal funding for three years, with the city taking over funding the fourth year. Officials said the grant will also see a gradual increase in the city’s match over the three years. Martin said additional information on the specifics of the grant would be brought to city council, which still has to accept it.

Parkersburg City Council members Sharon Lynch, John Rockhold and John Kelly, and development officials Ann Conageski and Rickie Yeager were also present for the announcement.

Martin said Parkersburg and Huntington were the only cities in the state to receive a COPs grants.

The police department, which has 65 members, will increase to 68. Martin said it’s the first manpower increase in a number of years.

He said the grant won’t affect the department’s existing staffing. The department will hire three officers and train them to replace the PRO officers. The PRO officers won’t be installed in the schools until the city ranks are filled. Martin said they hope to have officers in the middle schools by the end of the school year.

Newell said there are 17 schools in the city, five of which will have full-time police officers.

“It serves a larger base than the city,” Newell said. The three schools serve 1,750 faculty and students.

Williamstown is the only school inside the school system, and outside the city staffed by a PRO officer

Law said the school system has a great relationship with the city and police department.

“The goal is to prevent school violence,” he said. “This adds another layer.”

Martin said officials also recognize the mentoring aspect of the PRO officers.

“It’s easier and more beneficial for officers to interact with kids at the middle school level,” he said.