Buckhannon police chief Matt Gregory delivers the BPD's annual report at council's Feb. 18 meeting. / Photo by Katie Kuba

Buckhannon police chief briefs council on 2021 activity in annual report

BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon’s chief of police on Thursday shared the first full year of data the department has collected on its only furry, four-legged officer – K-9 Erros.

The two-year-old Dutch Shepherd has made his mark – or paw print – in local law enforcement operations, having joined the department in November 2020 after training with his partner, city police Sgt. William Courtney. In 2021, the K-9 officer’s first full year on the job, Erros helped seize over $26,000 worth of illegal drugs and controlled substances, police chief Matt Gregory said Thursday.

Dutch shepherd K-9 Erros and partner, Sgt. William Courtney

At council’s Feb. 18 meeting, Gregory presented the Buckhannon Police Department’s 2021 annual report, which included data on Erros’s work, as well as several new accreditation-related reviews and analyses. Since the department attained accreditation through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, or CALEA, in summer 2021, it now reviews use of force incidents, conducts a bias-based profiling analysis and an evaluation of police pursuits in city limits.

“As council will remember, K-9 Erros is a multi-purpose K-9 drug detection and tracking canine,” Gregory said. In 2021, Courtney and K-9 Erros were deployed for drug detection 32 times.

“That resulted in a little over $26,000 worth of drugs seized,” Gregory said.

The annual report showed that of the $26,417 worth of controlled substances detected, methamphetamine represented 52 percent of all indications and resulted in the seizure of 57.62 grams of meth. Erros’s other positive drug indications were for heroin, marijuana, Tramadol and morphine.

Use of force review, bias-based profiling analysis and evaluation of pursuit incidents

In its assessment of use of force incidents, compiled by Lt. Doug Loudin, police department administrators look for patterns or trends that could indicate policy changes, equipment upgrades or more officer training is needed. Loudin’s analysis found 16 instances in 2021 in which use of force was reported, which is a decrease of incidents from 2020.

“The reporting officers documented that in seven of the reported incidents, the subject was under the influence or suspected of being under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both,” the report says. Additionally, use of force – which could range from physical force and other less-lethal methods to displaying or deployment of a taser or firearm – was utilized with three people believed to be experiencing a mental illness episode.

Of the 16 instances in which officers used force, 15 of the individuals were male and one was female, and 14 were white, while two were black. Additionally, the total number of BPD arrests in 2021 was 269, which means force was used in 5.9 percent of all arrest incidents, according to the annual report.

“The most common circumstances for why force was used was because the person was resisting arrest or the lawful commands of a police officer,” Loudin wrote. “This occurred in nine of the reported 16 incidents.”

Force was used in four additional cases when individuals were fleeing from an officer, and in the remaining three due to an emotionally disturbed person’s actions/a medical emergency.

Moreover, in use of force incidents, physical force was used 11 times, a taser was displayed in two incidents, and a taser was deployed in two instances. Pepper spray was displayed in one case, and a firearm was displayed in five incidents. Loudin noted two of the use of force incidents resulted in injury to the person being arrested, and all injuries were subsequently treated, per protocol.

Loudin concluded no changes were needed to the department’s use of force policy but emphasized officers will continue with annual training on use of force, de-escalation tactics, less-lethal use of force methods and officer safety.

Two other areas evaluated in connection to the BPD’s CALEA accreditation are biased-based profiling and post-pursuit analyses. The biased-based profiling analysis did not find any concerns regarding the behavior of any individual officer “which would exceed the norm or current patterns of conduct expected” of Buckhannon Police Department members, Loudin wrote. He did note, however, that officers need to reduce the number of people included in the ‘other’ race category, i.e., not white, black, Hispanic, etc., saying officers need to better document what an ‘unknown’ person is in arrest reports.

Regarding pursuits, Loudin found the total number of pursuits by city police in 2021 amounted to six. Three of those instances netted driver arrests, and one resulted in a juvenile being cited and released to their parents. Of the remaining three incidents, officers called off two chases because they lost sight of the vehicle. One resulted in a crash in which the fleeing person was injured and had to be transported to Ruby Memorial Hospital for treatment and is, according to the report, waiting to be arrested.

Loudin concluded officers involved in those pursuits acted appropriately but said continued review and discussion concerning pursuits “should regularly occur.”

Local crime stats

In addition to several new elements, the BPD’s annual report included information on the police department’s overall activity, criminal complaint reports, arrests and more, which typically reveals local and regional crime trends.

Mayor Robbie Skinner complimented the report.

“This is a wealth of knowledge,” he said. “This is a very well put-together report and very thorough. Statistically, I think we’re doing pretty well.”

“I think so,” Gregory agreed. “I was pleased with this report, I was pleased with the statistics just across the board.”

Highlights of the annual report, accessible on the BPD’s website, include:

  • Misdemeanor arrests dipped from 453 in 2019 to just 286 in 2021.
  • In 2021, there were 73 felonies, compared to 109 in 2020 and 72 in 2019.  
  • Of 550 criminal reports completed in 2021, 367 or 67 percent were cleared, meaning the case was solved or resolved, i.e., an arrest was made for example.
  • 2021’s top five crimes in the city were documented as larceny (76 cases, 15 of which were felonies), drug offenses (60 cases, seven of which were felonies), shoplifting (52 cases, six of which were felonies), destruction of property (46 cases), and hit-and-run incidents (40 case).         
  • The police department completed 149 motor vehicle accidents in 2021, 20 percent of which involved injuries or fatalities.
  • The police department issued considerably fewer traffic citations and warnings in 2021 than in both 2019 and 2020, with 170 citations and 414 warnings in 2021, as compared to 658 citations in 2019 and 1,223 warnings in 2019.

Regional crime stats

The BPD is part of the Mountain Lakes Drug and Violent Crime Unit, through which it partners with the Upshur County Sheriff’s Office, Lewis County Sheriff’s Department and West Virginia State Police. Gregory shared the task force’s regional statistics as part of the BPD’s annual report.

  • Task force officers made 161 state felony arrests and conducted 90 drug seizures, which amounted to approximately $253,808 worth of illegal controlled substances. “There was just a little over a quarter of a million dollars’ worth of drugs seized in our region last year and a little over $80,000 worth of property or currency seized,” the police chief said. “That’s quite significant for a rural region.”
  • Task force officers seized 3,280.16 grams of marijuana, 1,401.38 grams of methamphetamine, 67.45 grams of heroin in 475.25 dosage units of prescription pills.

The full report is accessible here.

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