Council Agrees To Police Fee Ordinance, Poll Workers’ Raises
Sistersville residents might pay more for police protection if council proceeds with the approval and adoption of an ordinance, which would increase the police fee by $2.75 per month.
Council decided at its March 11 meeting that city attorney Krista Fleegle would draft such ordinance. This $2.75 increase would allow the city’s officers to receive a 10 percent raise. It was stated council had been discussing this fee increase and subsequent raise at previous meetings; however, the measure previously “fell through.”
It was further noted the fee increase and subsequent pay increase would put the city closer to other municipalities in terms of pay for officers.
In another matter, council approved increasing the pay for its poll workers. Instead of being paid $125 for 14 hours of work, poll workers will now be paid $140 for the day’s work. Mayor Bill Rice said the increase in payment might interest more people in the job, stating “I wouldn’t want to sit for $14 hours for $125 bucks.” It was noted this would bring the cost of the April 23 special levy election to $2,240, instead of the previously anticipated $2,000. Councilman Greg Gage abstained from the vote.
The city will also be advertising for a new recorder. This news comes after the resignation of Heather Rice. The resignation will be effective April 8, when a new recorder is appointed. However, Rice would act as interim recorder until a suitable candidate is found. After a new recorder is found, Rice will then fill the position of assistant recorder/water clerk.
Tyler County Prosecuting Attorney Luke Furbee attended the March 11 meeting to answer questions and address concerns council members had regarding the criminal court system. At January’s meeting, Councilman Chuck Heinlein had expressed frustration with the judicial system, including frustration with bond amounts, repeat offenders, and alleged offenses involving a felon in possession of a firearm. It was agreed to at that meeting that council would send a letter to those involved in the court system. The letter was to be drafted by Heinlein.
At the March 11 meeting, Furbee noted the state constitution states excessive bail cannot be required. He said there is no set formula or schedule for setting bail, and the matter is left in the discretion of the court. He explained each case is different; however, the chief factor in any case is whether or not the defendant is a flight risk, correlated to the severity of whatever crime that defendant has been charged with.
Furbee also reminded council a charge is not a conviction. “A person is presumed innocent until they are proven to be guilty.”
Furbee said he knows there are probably instances when it seems like, as one council member had suggested, a person is arrested one day and out of jail the next. However, Furbee noted, “You have to understand that if they are out, they posted bail. Whether that bail was a low bail or a high bail, somebody posted that bail.”
Councilman Heinlein asked Furbee if he can suggest a bond amount to the magistrates; Furbee said most of the time he can, but not all the time. “If someone is arrested at 3 a.m., my input on bail isn’t going to be asked,” he said.
“I’m sure they see what your mission is, to uphold what you want,” Heinlein responded.
Furbee said he wouldn’t necessarily say that, as the magistrates are not “rubber stamps for me or anyone else.”
Councilman Phil Konopacky questioned how many defendants are released on personal recognizance. Furbee said he doesn’t have statistics, but there are a great many people charged with low-level nonviolent misdemeanor crimes who are given the opportunity to bail out on personal recognizance.
Heinlein asked if the court system has adjusted its “reasonable bond” in relation to drug crimes. He noted 20 years ago drug dealers might not have had money in hand to make bond, but “Today, because of volume of drugs and kind of drugs, they’ve got a bank roll to get out easily. I’m wondering if our bond has escalated, in those circumstances.”
Furbee noted the system has never had a set schedule correlated to the crime a person is charged with. For instance, he said at the magistrate level bail for alleged drug offenses can be anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000 or higher. He said giving exact statistics would require additional work by his staff.
Furbee said if a person was to come watch court, they would see what the dynamic is when setting bail, especially in a circuit court felony case. He explained the defense can argue that their client has made it to court after being served a summons. He reiterated the main factor is flight risk.
Councilman Gage questioned if personal recognizance is counterintuitive. Furbee said it is not, because the rule is “innocent until proven guilty.”
“Even if they are arrested before trial?”
Furbee noted if a person was arrested three to four times prior to trial, he would hope bail is revoked. However, he noted, most likely at some point another bail would be set.
“Other than an offense that is punishable by life in prison, you have a right to have bail set.”
Furbee also explained how time in jail might be limited due to the graduated probation sanction. Due to previous rulings from the legislature, if a person on probation commits any violation – besides absconding or committing a new crime other than a drug violation – they are punished with up to 60 days in jail and then returned to probation. The person is released back on probation after each violation until the third offense; at only that point probation can be revoked.
“I personally want to thank you for helping us to understand a bit more of what your job is like,” said Heinlein.
When asked what council can do to help its community be safer, Furbee said from his perspective, all members of the police department should have operational cameras in their vehicles.
Sistersville Police Chief Rob Haught later agreed with Furbee’s advice, stating he would like to see officers get “good, working” in-car cameras. He also said officers need a private room to conduct interviews, including a camera with a tripod.
Furbee also advised council to keep in mind that an arrest is based on “probable cause,” which is a lower standard that “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is required at trial. He said sometimes a case has a long way to go to the point of convicting somebody.
Heinlein asked if Furbee ever makes the opportunity to get law enforcement’s recommendations on a case.
“We endeavor to do that as much as possible,” Furbee said. He went on to explain the magistrate’s office had 617 cases last year. He said he advises law enforcement to let him or his office know, before court, what they expect out of a case.
Heinlein noted he could not speak for council, but in his opinion, communities throughout the nation are less safe due to multiple offenders who are repeatedly released on probation, before that probation is revoked.
Mayor Rice noted that presently, the criminal activity is “totally different than what we’ve ever seen.”
Inferencing suspicious activity, he said “They are running in packs in here now They will walk in some place in broad daylight. They are brazen and bold. They don’t care.”
Rice said it seems like the law isn’t in place to handle the crime.
“Believe me, I didn’t come in to pass the buck, but some of the issues you are raising really is a legislative issue,” Furbee said, noting possible penalties for each crime are set by the legislature.
Furbee also had advice for the public, if they observe suspicious activity: Give the police department information.
“You might not hear anymore about it. Sometimes that can be aggravating or concerning, but (law enforcement officers) need the information. Don’t be afraid to be the sponsor of that information. Yes, you may have to show up to court someday. I think people decide that’s more trouble.”
“It’s your community, and those are the types of people we need, to do the kinds of things you need us to do. We need to have people with courage, who are willing to have courage and be the sponsor that information. It takes courage.”