By Sarah Plummer
“We have lost the control of our community. We, as a community, have to take our neighborhoods back,” Raleigh County Sheriff Steve Tanner told more than 150 people gathered at Ghent Fire Department Tuesday to learn about forming their own neighborhood crime watches.
Von Moye, a concerned Shady Spring citizen, organized the public meeting and created a neighborhood watch Facebook page after hearing reports of burglaries in the areas of Shady Spring, Daniels, Glade Springs, Cool Ridge and Beaver.
He retold the story of a burglar breaking into his mother’s home and attempting to steal her jewelry three weeks ago.
He asked those in attendance if they recalled the retired Shady Spring post mistress Mrs. Dee Tate, now in her 90s.
Many there did.
He asked if they remembered Marie Skelton of Ray’s Bait Shop.
Again, many did.
He said that Skelton often stays with Tate during the night and was with her when the Tate residence was broken into by a man with a pistol.
“A man came in and said, ‘I’m sorry to do this but I’m homeless and hungry. I want your money and your jewelry,’” he said. “Marie told him to come into the kitchen, that she would fix him something to eat.”
Moye said God was watching over the two women that night because the man turned and left, but many in the community are scared. His mother, for one, can no longer sleep at night.
Tanner acknowledged that there is a burglary epidemic in Raleigh and Fayette counties.
“They absolutely terrorized your communities and we saturated your communities with patrols and we drove them to Oak Hill. That is not effecting a solution; it is passing the ball along,” he said.
This year the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Department expects to answer more than 50,000 calls between their 28 deputies.
“We don’t see patrols in our community any more because our deputies are racing from one crisis to the next,” he explained.
Tanner sees the burglaries as directly connected to southern West Virginia’s prescription pill problems.
“Ultimately we have to get the prescriptions drugs off the street to eliminate the problem, but tonight you are here to ask, ‘What can we do to make our communities safe?’”
Tanner explained that starting a neighborhood crime watch begins with the sheriff talking with the group of citizens about getting to know each other, who works, and familiarizing themselves with who should be in their communities.
He then assigns a deputy directly to the neighborhood crime watch.
“What happens is your deputy gets to know you and you know him,” he continued. “Suddenly you are on a first name basis with a deputy and when you have a problem, you are calling a friend. And suddenly we are back in a grassroots law enforcement community-based service.”
Tanner said these types of neighborhood watches work because they help prevent, not react, to crimes because individual communities know when something is amiss in their own neighborhoods.
“This type of program stops crimes before they happen, not pick up the pieces afterward,” he added.
Also present at the meeting were representatives from the Odd neighborhood crime watch group, the most successful in the county.
Tanner said the crime in Odd has decreased 85 percent under their patrols and watchful eyes.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall attended the event and told the public, “We are all in this together. No one piece of legislation, no one legislator, no one sheriff, no one deputy by him or herself can solve this epidemic. It takes all of us. I am so encouraged to see such a tremendous turnout tonight because it is turnouts of this nature that drive us at the congressional, state, and county levels to do a better job.”
Tanner added that all individuals who sign up to be members of Neighborhood Crime Watch will need to pass background checks. No convicted felons can be admitted, he said.
RSVP (Retired and Senior Volunteer Program) program director Barbara Caceras was on hand after the meeting to sign up neighborhood Watch volunteers and help groups assign a watch captain. Those who wish to sign up and were not able to attend the meeting can contact her by phone at 304-436-6800.
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