BUCKHANNON — A local resident came to the defense of the city police department at a recent Buckhannon City Council meeting, saying the BPD needs to be writing more tickets, not fewer.
Elissa Mills attended council’s regular March 2 meeting because she was upset about several council comments made at a special budget session held for the Buckhannon Police Department on Feb. 20.
At the Feb. 20 session, councilman CJ Rylands and city recorder Susan Aloi both asked police chief Matt Gregory about why he seeks grant funding from sources like the Governor’s Highway Safety program, which rewards officers for writing tickets. In response, Gregory said he believes in using discretion and cultivating relationships with community members and does not believe in excessively ticketing.
Mills said she was upset by the article about that meeting that appeared in the March 1 edition of The Record Delta, titled, “Are police financially encouraged to write tickets? City debates role of law enforcement in community.”
“Evidently, several other people were as offended by the article as I was because there were several other lengthy comments on social media about it,” Mills said of the March 2 meeting. “There’s a couple things I want to mention. Since I was little, I was taught that there are certain things you automatically give respect to. You give respect to members of the military, you give respect to your teachers and you always give respect to firemen and officers of the law.”
Mills said American society has morphed into one in which parents are “their kids’ best friends” and blame teachers, police officers and others in authority for children’s bad behavior rather than encouraging the younger generation to take responsibility for their own actions.
“I think it’s time we start teaching people that there are certain positions that should come with a little bit of respect,” Mills said. “Same as with members of council. You all should be respected; you’re serving our community. And I think it’s terrible — I think it’s reprehensible — that it would be on the front page of our newspaper that anyone, especially someone in an elected position, would imply that the police are being encouraged to write tickets.”
Mills told council members they should consider stepping into the shoes of police officers for a day.
“Unless you are willing to step in and take their place, I think you ought to think a little harder about what it’s like to be in their shoes,” Mills said, “and I would strongly encourage you — instead of discouraging the police from doing their jobs — we ought to give them a high five and encourage them to do it even more.”
Citing her internet research, Mills said she knew the BPD writes more warnings than tickets.
Mills also took issue with council’s response to Gregory’s budgeting requests. For instance, at the special budget session Feb. 20, Rylands questioned the need for the hiring of two part-time police officers Gregory requested. Mills, however, said police budget requests should be taken more seriously.
“I think when the police come with requests for their budgets, I think they’re one of the last groups that should be raked over the coals and told, ‘Well, we need to cut some things,’” Mills said. “In all the years I’ve known Chief Gregory, he has walked out of here not asking for totally what he needs; he asks for a small portion of it because he knows he’s not going to get it.”
Mills went on to say that the police should ticket more people and arrest more people in the city, citing a study conducted by the security advice agency, SafeWise, which recently ranked Weston as West Virginia’s safest city and Buckhannon the 24th safest city out of 37 cities. The article that cited the study was written by a WDTV reporter and recently shared on social media.
“You get on social media and you see that the city of Weston’s considered one of the most safe cities in West Virginia, while our own Buckhannon is considered at the bottom of the list for being the worst,” Mills said. “Well, if we’re not considered safe then it sounds to me like the police need to be writing more tickets, and they need to be picking more people up.”
When Mills concluded her comments, mayor David McCauley thanked her, but made no other response. However, during the council comments portion of the meeting, councilman Robbie Skinner said he believed the study Mills cited was false.
“I want to take issue with [it],” Skinner said. “I don’t believe or buy for a second that Weston, W.Va. is that much safer than Buckhannon. That’s nuts. I’m sorry, that’s crazy. Maria (Bray) walks her dog all over this town. Our family walks from where Mom and Dad live over by the city park through downtown over into the college, down the River Trail, through the other part of town and home, and that’s mornings, that’s night times, that’s the middle of the day, and never — and I go on these walks — never in our 15 years of doing these walks have we ever felt unsafe at any time.
“That report — you can make the numbers come out to however you want,” Skinner continued. “Numbers are numbers. When Clarksburg, Fairmont, Morgantown and Elkins are ranked safer than us? If it weren’t for Fairmont and Morgantown, there wouldn’t be any news in north central West Virginia, so I hope that the students at Wesleyan realize that this is a safe town. I hope that people who come here to patronize this community realize this is a safe town.”
Skinner said he was in no way criticizing the police department, but in fact giving them a compliment.
“I do appreciate what our city police officers do for our community,” Skinner said. “This is in no way, shape or form a shot at them. If nothing else, this is a pat on the back that the citizens of this community believe we are safe and look after one another and we have good people and we are a safe town and I am tired of the news media putting us down just because we might get a few more accolades than others that they feel the need to drag us down when Weston gets a nice honor. If they’re the safest town in the state, great. That’s good for them, but don’t drag us down in the middle of it. That just went right through me. For what it’s worth, I believe this town is quite safe.”