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City of Weirton still without police chief following meeting

WEIRTON – Despite a nomination from Mayor Harold Miller, the city remains without a new chief of police following Tuesday’s Weirton Council meeting.

Council met in the Weirton Room of the Millsop Community Center, which was filled to capacity with residents, with more standing in the hallways outside and into the nearby gymnasium. Many of those residents were on hand to show their support for Miller’s expected nominee, Sgt. Gerard Spencer, an officer with more than 20 years of experience within the Weirton Police Department.

When it came time, and Spencer’s name was put forward, it received no motion from council for acceptance. No comments were offered, and the decision was met with boos from the crowd as many, including several city police officers, walked out.

Following the meeting, Miller said the city will move forward in the process, confirming another candidate from outside the Weirton Police Department is being considered, but will not be available until early December. Until then, Miller said, Lt. Scott Cook will remain as acting head of the department.

Miller said he had spoken to Spencer about the post and agreed to name him for consideration.

“He’s a good officer and a good asset to the community,” Miller said. “It’s a shame council felt differently.”

Had Spencer been accepted, he would have been the city’s first African-American chief of police, a point several residents made during the citizens’ comments portion of the meeting.

Nine residents spoke in favor of Spencer’s nomination, with many noting his character and community involvement. In addition to serving with the Weirton Police Department, Spencer spent several years as an assistant football coach at Weir High School.

Sgt. Troy Bickers, vice president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 84, which includes officers in the Weirton Police Department, noted the crowd gathered for Tuesday’s meeting.

“That really speaks volumes to his support,” he said of Spencer.

Bickers said the city needs strong leadership in community-style police work, and he feels Spencer has those qualities, noting the relationships Spencer has been able to build over the years.

The Rev Rudy McAllister of Mt. Olive Baptist Church also noted Spencer’s career and community involvement, while alluding to allegations of racial comments made over the issue and asking why council may be looking outside of the department for a new chief.

“I don’t care if he’s blue, pink or whatever, he’s a damn good officer,” McAllister said, urging council to tell Spencer if they have any problems with his work.

Ethel Lester said Spencer is well-known in the community, calling him an asset to Weirton and the city’s police department.

Kyle Wilson said Spencer would bring a needed change to Weirton.

“Gerard is more than qualified,” she said. “He will be an asset to the city.”

Danielle Stroud said she has known Spencer for nine years through her work with Child Protective Services, working alongside him on child abuse cases. Spencer, she said, helped to organize the local Sexual Assault Response Team, often taking the lead on investigating those cases.

“He has the ability to communicate with compassion and respect,” Stroud said.

Allison Cowden, a former Hancock County assistant prosecutor, agreed, noting recent convictions on a sexual abuse case in the city.

“Not only is he the ultimate professional, but he has the biggest heart of any officer,” she said.

Local attorney Alex Risovich said, while he and Spencer often are on opposing sides in the courtroom, he understands and respects his work.

“He works hard, he’s honest and he always treats me and people I know with respect,” Risovich said.

Joseph Destafano also spoke in support, noting Spencer’s work with youth in the community.

Phil Fraga said while he doesn’t envy council for having to make the decision, he wanted to show his support for Spencer as he believed the selection would have been good for the city.

“If I didn’t feel Sgt. Spencer was qualified, I wouldn’t be here,” Fraga said.

Prior to addressing the meeting’s agenda, council convened into a 12-minute executive session, with City Attorney Vince Gurrera saying the police chief position was the topic of conversation.

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