BUCKHANNON – Total offenses may have dipped in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but illegal drug activity remained steady or may have even proliferated, the city police chief said last week.
Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory told council at its Thursday, Feb. 18 meeting that the number of offenses, citations and vehicle wrecks had dropped noticeably, but drug-related activity remained unchanged and could even have been worsened by the pandemic.
Gregory delivers his annual report every February to council and typically outlines trends over the past year or several years.
“The numbers were either consistent or down and for the most part down, and that is due in large part to the pandemic,” the police chief told council members. “We saw (vehicle) accidents greatly decrease, misdemeanor arrests are down noticeably, as are citations. The one thing that was consistent for the year was drug activity, and I believe that was due in large part to the pandemic as well. We saw a period of time in the middle of the year where we were having several cases of overdoses, not just here in the city but in the surrounding community.”
Gregory noted those overdoses prompted the regional Mountain Lakes Drug and Violent Crime Unit drug task force to conduct several raids.
The police chief noted that although it might appear as if felony arrests had spiked that was due to a couple cases involving fraud where the same individual or individuals committed “a multitude of felonies.”
In 2020, there were 109 felonies as compared to 72 in 2019 and 81 in 2018.
“They involved such things as credit card fraud and fraudulent use of an access device, and this resulted in numerous felony charges for those [individuals], and there were two specific events that netted that number of felonies, so that makes the total felony arrests look like it was a sharp increase, but if you take those two cases away, really, felonies are down along with all the other cases as well,” Gregory explained.
Other data in the police chief’s report include:
- Offense reports were down from 670 in 2019 to 606 in 2020.
- Misdemeanor arrests clocked in at just 293 in 2020, down considerably from 453 in 2019 and 410 in 2018.
- Traffic citations were issued less frequently than warnings with 345 citations given and 555 warnings written in 2020. In comparison, 658 traffic citations were given, and 1,223 warnings were issues in 2019.
- Only 127 accident reports were taken in 2020 compared to 156 in 2019 and 181 in 2018.
- The percent of people injured in vehicle accidents, however, remained relatively steady with 27 percent of accidents resulting in injuries in 2020.
- The top five crimes for which people were arrested by city police officers included shoplifting (107), fraud (107), larceny (70), drug offenses (66) and hit-and-run incidents (46).
Gregory said the activities of the regional task force – comprised of the BPD, Lewis County Sheriff’s Office, Philippi Police Department, Braxton County Sheriff’s Office and the West Virginia State Police – “remained consistently higher.”
“Especially when you compare it to last year, this is the one area that did not decrease,” the police chief said. “We have a lot of very good working relationships, and I believe through these partnerships, we are able to successfully address the issues that face our community.”
A few statistics from the MLDVCU for 2020 include:
- 80 new investigations initiated
- 20 federal arrests made
- 290 state felony arrests made
- 102 criminal investigation reports filed
- 41 buy assists
- 136 drug seizures
- $1,460 spent on controlled purchases
- $662,360 worth of drugs seized
- $348,130 worth of property and currency seized as evidence
According to the drug task force report included as part of Gregory’s report in council’s packet, the task force seized 10 grams of fentanyl, 2 grams of cocaine, 111.6 grams of heroin, 7,762.48 grams of marijuana, 221.39 grams of methamphetamine and 631.75 dosage units of prescription pills. About 26 grams labeled ‘other’ were seized, along with 37 suboxone.
At the conclusion of his report, councilman David Thomas asked Gregory if there was elevated illegal drug usage among any particular age group, and Gregory said it spans all age groups.
“Not really,” he replied, “and that’s really the issue with drug addiction and drugs themselves: it really doesn’t know any boundaries, and I don’t just mean physical boundaries and geographical boundaries. Drugs has affected every socioeconomic class, every age, every race equally, unfortunately, and we see that time and time again, not just with our patrol activities, but a lot of the calls we’re dealing with, whether it be domestic incidents, suspicious activities, they all usually have some root in drug activity.”
“We see all types of ages that have unfortunately been affected by this,” he added.