CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Col. Jay Smithers, newly appointed superintendent of the West Virginia State Police, stood in his office with a newspaper in hand and a giant State Police shield behind him as he talked to a reporter Thursday.
"We can't have things like this," he said, waving a newspaper in the direction of two of his subordinates, Sgt. Michael Baylous and Capt. Dave Lemmon, as he talked to the reporter. "It reflects poorly on me, it reflects poorly on Mike, on [Lemmon]. . . . It kills me. We need to do everything we can to acknowledge and address these incidents, and then we need to move forward."
The newspaper in his hand showed a headline from March 4: "Trooper wins in sex suit."
It was a story about former trooper Derek Snavely, and how a jury in Julie Fato's civil trial ruled that she was a willing participant in their sexual encounter.
Smithers had just gotten back to the office after speaking at in-service training, where he held up the same newspaper and told the troopers that such incidents reflect poorly on the whole organization.
Smithers, a former trooper now back to lead the agency, has been in the office for less than a month. He talked about how he wants to run the department moving forward.
"We realize the public holds us to a higher standard, like it or not," he said. "It's not easy to walk the walk, but walk it we must."
Smithers said he has started to address some problems he sees within the department. He's asked the Legislature to look at pay and benefits for civilian employees. The department is having a hard time keeping current employees, and many of the agency's long-time civilian employees are nearing retirement.
He also wants to put more emphasis on recruiting. He said that, so far, he's contacted legislators and others about who might be good troopers. He said he knows there are men and women out there who haven't considered a career in the State Police who would make excellent troopers.
"We need to find folks. As we speak, we don't have troopers that live in three counties: Wyoming, McDowell and Pleasants," he said. "That's horrible. We have folks assigned there, but we need folks who are stakeholders in the communities."
Smithers enlisted in the State Police in 1973 at 19. He turned 20 as a cadet. He was stationed in Raleigh County, where he learned the ropes of being a trooper.
The sheriff's departments weren't as active in those days, and troopers often had little backup outside of city police departments, he said. His detachment commander had troopers go out to the beer gardens around the county every day, just to take stock of what was going on and to make sure things didn't get out of hand.
"We could do that back then," he said.
Troopers are most often alone in their duties. They don't have partners, and when they come upon a difficult situation, backup can be miles, and perhaps hours, away.