By Bob Weaver

The West Virginia State Police have apparently changed their county-based coverage to a regional system, although they are downplaying the change.

Controversy surrounds the moving of six troopers from Wirt and Pleasants Counties, the agency says those counties will be better served.

Charleston newspapers reported last week that troopers will now be assigned according to a district rather than by local detachments.

Responding to Wirt and Pleasant county complaints, State Police Superintendent Dave Lemmon says the troopers are not being transferred, but are just being asked to respond to calls in other sections.

The county detachment offices are going to be kept open, at least for now.

The six officers are reporting daily to Wood County, not to their local headquarters.

Officials in Pleasants and Wirt said the change means troopers are only in the rural counties for token appearances before returning to Wood County, unless a call for help is received.

The issue was the topic of discussion during a public meeting held Saturday at the Pleasants County Library in St. Marys. The meeting was organized by local residents and officials concerned about the change in trooper coverage.

"What I saw was an attempt to provide better coverage," said Joseph Thornton, deputy cabinet secretary for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, who has oversight over the State Police.

Thornton says he sees potential for better coverage in rural counties.

"The changes we have made are to enhance law enforcement in the counties," said Lt. Col. S.C. Tucker, deputy superintendent of the State Police.

The position is a familiar public relations stance to situations where offices are closed, agencies are downsized or moved, or mergers and consolidations are made - "We're making this change in order to serve you better."

"We still don't have State Police coverage in Pleasants County," said Pleasants County Sheriff Ted Maston.

James McFarland, former Pleasants County Sheriff and county commissioner, said "The small counties are kinda being pushed in the background...We give up a lot for efficiency sometimes."

McFarland says the State Police are not going to change their minds.

"It's been my experience in the past, when a state agency makes a decision...they just do what they want to do," McFarland said.

A few years ago, then detachment commander Sgt. John Bonazzo, issued an order to Calhoun's 911 Center that the local detachment would no longer answer night calls.

Bonazzo was angered when the memo was published on the Herald, saying it was not public information.

Later, the agency declared they would answer all calls.

Sgt. Dale Fluharty, who is supervisor over the Grantsville Detachment, told the Herald last week he was unaware of any changes being made with local troopers.