On this West Virginia Week, we learned about plants that can thrive in former mine lands, we kayaked along the Gauley River, we learned about an art exhibit inspired by recent cuts at West Virginia University, and we saw dogs fly from Charleston to Michigan to reach their forever homes.Continue Reading Take Me to More News
In the weeks following the 2014 legislative session, a group of activists proved that standing up for what you believe in can sometimes make a difference. After letters, meetings and rallies at the Capitol, organizations that provide children and family services got their funding restored by the legislature during a special session.
Despite the ability of those groups to get their funding back after gubernatorial cuts, not every agency or organization was able to do the same. For instance, a program that won’t be expanding this year due to a lack of state money, the West Virginia State Police Crimes Against Children Unit.
The unit was created in 2006 when the legislature passed the Child Protection Act. The bill set aside funding for 6 troopers to oversee investigations involving children throughout the state. In 2009, the unit expanded and has since grown to the 19 it includes today, but the State Police have been on a mission to expand the unit and put more boots on the ground.
Lt. Daniel Swiger is the Crimes Against Children unit commander and this year took his fight to the statehouse, lobbying so to speak for more money for more troopers.
Swiger teamed up with the Women’s Caucus and the House Select Committee on Crimes Against Children to get the funding approved for 50 new troopers over the next five years. The idea was that those new troopers would take positions out in the field, allowing more experienced officers to shift to his specialized team.
Swiger was able to get members of the House on his side, but as per typical budget negotiations, members of the Senate wouldn’t agree to add additional salaries into the base budget of the state.
During budget week, both houses did agreed to a compromise. They’d fund five to six new troopers this year allowing officers to move to the unit, and would consider approving more positions in the future.
The compromise, however, didn’t make it past the governor’s desk. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed the funding in the days following the session, bringing Swiger’s dream of a one day 85 member unit to a stand still, at least for now.
“It’s discouraging to me to know that it just wasn’t a priority. I think there’s funding there, it just comes down to what is the priority in government?” he said.
“I think the funding is there if the politicians search hard enough. It’s just whether or not someone wants to step up and make that bold move to say we’re going to fund this rather than something else.”
In just the past year, his small staff investigated more than 500 cases, arresting 194 people who were convicted on more than 1,000 felony counts.
“Everything they work will have a major impact on somebody’s life whether it be the victim, the suspect, or both. Every case that we work and it can be life alerting cases. So, there’s a lot of stress involved day in and day out and it takes a special person to want to work with what we have. I’ve had people tell me, I don’t know how you do that and my answer to them is how can we not do this? How can we not do this?” Swiger said.
This week, Sutton State Police Detachment Commander Sgt. Andrew Shingler will join the unit, taking the place of an officer injured in the line of duty. The agency has also managed to sacrifice one more field trooper who will join the Crimes Against Children team as well, but those two additions are it for now.
“You know, everything comes down to money and you have to prioritize and you have to decide what’s important,” Shingler said. “Let’s face it, what’s more important than the lives of these children? Nothing, as far as I’m concerned. Nothing.”
In the statehouse, Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, vice chair of the Committee on Crimes Against Children and the Women’s Caucus, said during interim meetings Tuesday finding funding will continue to be a priority going into next year’s legislative session.