BUCKHANNON – City officials and the Buckhannon Police Department on Thursday announced the reinstatement of a Neighborhood Watch Program.
The announcement, made at city council’s meeting by mayor David McCauley, comes on the heels of several residents of Thurman and Cleveland avenues telling council at its Sept. 5 meeting they were concerned about a spike in drug activity in North Buckhannon.
City officials and members of the Buckhannon Police Department have since met with the main speaker at the Sept. 5 meeting, Thurman Avenue resident Faye Huddleston, McCauley explained. He also said the city is well-aware of the addiction epidemic and is continuously trying to strike a balance between deterring drug-related criminal activity and maintaining a compassionate attitude toward addicted people who are seeking help.
“Our city’s position in dealing with all things drugs since 2016 has been a balanced one where we are sensitive both to our community-at-large that is impacted by the nuisance and threatening elements of people here using drugs including theft, vandalism, assaults, DUIs and other mindless acts perpetrated by addicts, thus our programs purposed at supporting law enforcement and our criminal justice system,” McCauley said, “but also recognizing that as a society, the more support that may be rendered in helping addicts to find their way to recovery – regaining lost souls if you will – is a highly legitimate goal that we all should embrace, that is, returning citizens to being contributing members of our society.”
“We must evolve as a society beyond mere clichés such as, ‘Just say no,’ or ‘This is your brain on drugs,’” the mayor added. “We have to be more than a slick marketing campaign. Tonight, our City announces the resumption of its Neighborhood Watch program.”
Lt. Doug Loudin with the Buckhannon Police Department briefed council members and meeting attendees on how Neighborhood Watch programs work and passed out an informational pamphlet.
“One of the major misconceptions about Neighborhood Watch programs is that everyone believes that the police department creates these programs and organizes these programs, but that’s not the case,” Loudin said. “The reason we don’t organize them is we’re limited on what [services or protection] we can provide.”
“We can educate people in the neighborhood about what to look for – and they can be our eyes and ears – but I agree … that we’re not the cure-all for all the problems that plague society,” he explained. “We only have so many officers, but we will educate you on things to look out for and how to protect your home.”
McCauley said he, police chief Matt Gregory, Loudin and The Sign Guy had developed a sign that could be posted in neighborhoods that opt to participate in a watch program. Loudin said neighborhoods must organize programs from within and then contact the police department. He asked residents to be patient, noting that drug investigations can sometimes be lengthy and certain activity that might appear to be “wrong” might not necessarily be a violation of state or federal law.
“Something may look wrong, and it may be wrong, but it may not be against the law,” Loudin said. “What may be perceived as wrong may not be wrong according to state code. [Drug crimes] are not something you can always solve in an hour like what you may see on TV. It may take weeks, months or even years.”
Loudin said the BPD must be meticulous because if evidence isn’t obtained properly or if officers haven’t put together a rock solid case, the entire case could be thrown out.
Huddleston, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said she hoped her neighbors and other neighborhoods throughout the city would get involved in being part of the solution to the addiction epidemic.
“So many people just want to sit back and say, ‘oh it’s bad and not get involved,’” she said. “But we’re not going to take this. We’re not going to live among the drug addicts anymore. We don’t want to live next to someone selling drugs … I ask all of you to join with us and take our town back.”
“If we lose our town, it’s going to be our fault for not participating,” she said.
Matt Kerner, executive director of the Opportunity House, which maintains a recovery center on Cleveland Avenue, said he believes there are “a few houses where [drug activity] seems to be centered.”
Referring to comments made at the Sept. 5 meeting about bicycles and backpacks being an indicator of drug activity, Kerner said just because someone is carrying a backpack or riding a bicycle doesn’t mean they’re engaged in drug-related activity.
“Sometimes, people are on a bicycle because that’s the only way they have to get somewhere,” he said. “Just because they’re on a bicycle doesn’t mean they’re committing a felony. We get hung up on the backpacks.”
Kerner also said he didn’t believe there was a “major drug trafficking issue” in North Buckhannon like there is in larger cities and noted there are limits to what police can do.
“We can’t ask the police to do stuff that’s unconstitutional,” he said.