Police chief: Top three crimes are larceny, shoplifting, drugs

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BUCKHANNON – The number of drug offenses reported to the Buckhannon Police Department has more than tripled since 2015, the city’s police chief told city council Thursday.

When Matt Gregory gave council his 2017 annual report on the BPD’s activities, he noted that his department took 105 reports regarding drug offenses in 2017, making it the third most common report taken. Reports are different than arrests, as they don’t always result in an arrest.

“I just want to highlight the drug offenses at the number three spot at 105,” Gregory said. “You’ll notice it was at the number four spot in 2016 at 61, so it almost doubled in a year. If you look at 2015, it’s not even in the top five. I think we had maybe 33 or 34 [drug offense reports], so it’s almost quadrupled in the last three years.”

The top five crimes reported in 2017 were, from most to least common, larceny, shoplifting, drug offenses, destruction of property and hit-and-runs.

Councilman David Thomas asked Gregory if the drug offenses were mostly alleged to have been committed by city residents or nonresidents.

“Can we track that?” he asked.

Gregory replied, “I will just say on experience we probably deal with as many nonresidents, if not more, than we do with residents … we’re starting to see a lot of the harder street drugs that many folks would only attribute to larger cities.”

Methamphetamine is the most commonly observed drug, Gregory said, followed closely by pain pills, such as opioids or opiates, and heroin.

“We’ve also seen instances of PCP as well as ecstasy or synthetic drugs in our community, whether it be synthetic marijuana or bath salts,” Gregory said. “It’s really a very wide range of drugs that we deal with, with meth and pills being the most prevalent.”

Gregory highlighted several other statistics he gathered over the 2017 calendar year.

Of the 667 criminal reports filed, 441 were cleared, meaning one of several possibilities, the main one being the suspect was arrested.

“We have a total clearance rate of 66 percent for all criminal reports taken,” Gregory said. “The vast majority could be cleared because of an arrest, but there could also be an exceptional clearance, which means there was enough evidence to prosecute, but the prosecution did not occur because of the decision of the prosecutor or the joint decision of the prosecutor and a police officer. Another way reports are cleared is the death of an offender or the victim refused to cooperate.”

Reports could also be cleared if they are deemed unfounded, meaning there is not enough evidence to move forward with prosecution.

In 2017, misdemeanor arrests totaled 465, and felony arrests added up to 75.

“If you look at the trend [over the past three years], the misdemeanor arrests are up slightly over the past three years, and felonies are somewhat in the middle,” Gregory said.

The chief also pointed to a significant decline in traffic citations in 2017, when 1,201 were issued.

“That is significantly down from 2016,” when 2,364 traffic citations were issued, and 2015, when 1,946 traffic citations were given out,” Gregory said. “In fact, we almost cut it in half in just the last year, and we were down by 700 from 2015. I know there was a little bit of discussion about the discretion our officers use, and our officers do, in fact, use quite a bit of discretion and really always have.”

Beginning in February 2017, however, the BPD began tracking warnings.

“We gave out 1,781 warnings, so that’s a full 500-plus more warnings than traffic citations, and that’s for an 11-month period, so I would suspicion to say it would be even higher when we include January, as we will do next year,” the police chief said.

From most common to least common, the top five traffic citations in 2017 were no seatbelt (462); no insurance carried (220); cellphone usage while driving (167); speeding (87); and driving with a suspended license (87).

At the end of the law enforcement portion of his report, Gregory said drugs play a significant role in many other crimes, including shoplifting and burglaries.

“So even as I reflect specifically with these arrests, and to a large degree the reports as well, even beyond drugs introducing themselves into the top five of both the reports and arrests, you’ll see that other crime categories include thefts, burglaries and shoplifting, and a large amount of those are related to the drug problem,” Gregory said.

Gregory also mentioned a host of community and public relations activities the police department engages in, including foot and bike patrols in the summer months and the coordination of VIPS (Volunteers in Police Service) program, which allows citizens to help the police with a slew of tasks such as aiding with traffic control during 5K runs.

“My favorite event and one of the best events is the Buckhannon Police Department Youth Academy,” the police chief said. “This particular year, we saw more than 20 students, middle and high school-aged students, and engaged other public safety agencies to put on the academy.”

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