RICHMOND, Va. – Local sheriffs joined dozens of others from around the state in a visit to the Capitol in Richmond Wednesday, highlighting issues they feel are affecting southwest Virginia law enforcement members, including funding and potentially new, stricter gun laws.
10 News got an inside look at their conversations, sitting in in a meeting with Republican Del. Terry Austin and two sheriffs: Alleghany County’s Kevin Hall and Botetourt County’s Matt Ward, who’s newly-sworn-in.
“Law-abiding citizens have owned guns for years and overnight they can be made criminals,” Ward said.
Austin has voted against the bills they discussed, and he says he worries about red flag laws, which could lead to more situations where officers would take people’s guns.
“That can create a very volatile situation for you,” Austin said.
The sheriffs agree.
“I think we all have some concerns with that because it’s a situation where some people may be able to abuse that,” Hall said.
On the issue of funding, it looks like sheriff’s offices will not be seeing an increase this year in what the state contributes to their budgets.
“It’s frustrating. It’s been 12 years and we’ve gotten two 2 percent pay increases,” Hall said. “It seems like they tell you, ‘next year, next year,’ But when is next year?”
Budget discussions are going on right now, and it looks likely that state police will get more funding this year. Sheriffs say starting pay for their deputies is lagging further and further behind the starting rate for state troopers.
“Now, we’re fortunate that we have a very supportive community but not all localities can do that,” Ward said of his Botetourt County department.
They’re asking lawmakers to reconsider next year.
“I know every year we seem to make more and more excuses as to why we don’t compensate y’all more, but hopefully we’ll continue to work in that direction to make that happen,” Austin said to Hall and Ward.
The sheriffs say they’ll keep coming back until they do.
Lawmakers say the number of bills that request funding are up about 50 percent compared to an average year.