By Wendy Holdren
Beckley Police Chief Tim Deems said 2013 was a good year overall for the department, with the reinstitution of the Special Enforcement Unit, cell phone and seatbelt laws in place and only one murder within the Beckley city limits.
“Overall, the violent crimes are down this year,” Deems said.
Although the numbers are not yet finalized, Deems said Beckley only saw one murder this year, compared to six last year.
In the lone murder case, Gaston Smith III, 19, was charged with fatally shooting Darien Miguel Blaney, 20, on July 30.
“Any time we’re working a case involving a death investigation or murder, those get top priority. All detectives concentrate on that case.”
With the violent crime numbers down, Deems said his department was able to focus on other problems within the community, which led to the reinstitution of the Special Enforcement Unit.
Two officers, one seasonal officer and a supervisor, work on neighborhood problems, code enforcement, curfew violations, speeding vehicles, loud music and drugs.
“The Special Enforcement Unit got up and running around the first of June. They’ve been very active in the community.”
Deems said the SEU’s main priority is to make the quality of life better in Beckley.
As for the drug problem, Deems said he thinks people are becoming more aware of the issues involved.
“I hope that leads to some solutions. We’re seeing more and more drugs being disposed of on Drug Take Back Days.”
By properly disposing of unwanted or unused prescription medications, Deems said more drugs will be kept off the streets, fewer break-ins and drug-related thefts will occur and area watersheds will be protected from drug pollutants.
Also in 2013, two new laws made talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device and failure to wear a seatbelt primary offenses.
The Southern Regional Highway Safety Office provided funding to the BPD for specialized patrols to enforce the new laws and Deems said that, while many people are aware of the new laws, they can still be improved.
BPD has also looked into becoming accredited with CALEA, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.
Deems assembled a committee of senior officers to review the accreditation process. He said the department is in “pretty good shape” as far as policies and procedures go, but if they do decide to pursue CALEA accreditation, the department’s building would need major renovations or to be moved entirely.
“This building is at least 70 years old. It wasn’t designed to house a police department. Through the years, we put up walls here and ran electrical there. It’s worked, but I think it’s time to start looking at the possibility of renovations or moving into something newer.”
Deems extended a thank you to all the citizens for being supportive of the BPD throughout the year.
Deems also provided highlights of the previous five years at the department.
In 2012, a civilian employee, Gabriella Brown, was charged with stealing prescription drugs from the BPD evidence room.
“Although this was a huge setback in many areas, we learned from the experience,” Deems said.
Camera systems were installed and the responsibility of handling evidence was given to the Support Services Division and Capt. Lonnie Christian.
Christian conducts regular audits of the evidence room to ensure policies and procedures are being followed.
Also in 2012, phone systems were updated, patrol cars were given an updated design, more durable holsters were distributed to officers and the department received a new K-9 unit.
In 2011, a Citizen’s Police Academy was hosted to allow ordinary citizens to learn what it’s like to be a police officer.
BPD became part of a Highway Safety pilot project, which gave them two CanAm Spyder motorcycles to assist in traffic enforcement to increase seatbelt usage and reduce the number of DUIs.
The narcotics unit continued the war against illegal drug selling and use, and partnerships were formed with physicians, hospitals and a statewide drug force to help combat the problem.
The film developing lab was transitioned into a digital lab, trauma kits were purchased for each officer and gym equipment was updated in 2011.
In 2010, Deems said the City of Beckley saw a spike in crime rates. Assault, breaking and entering and larceny were all greater than the average of preceding years. The number of DUI arrests was also up, with 192 arrests.
Through a $52,040 JAG grant, the department was able to equip each officer with a Taser and 12 new mobile radios.
In 2009, the Detective Bureau made 380 arrests, 234 of which were felony arrests. The Drug Unit seized eight vehicles, over $96,000 in cash and almost 2,000 various prescription pills.
Police cars were transitioned to LED emergency lighting, in-car laptops were beginning to be installed, in-car cameras were upgraded and numerous radio projects were implemented.
Through a JAG Recovery grant, the department purchased a fingerprint scanner, an interview room recording system and digital forensic media enhancement software.
In 2008, an increase was observed in pharmacy break-ins and robberies, as well as catalytic converter thefts from underneath parked vehicles. These crimes sparked a major coordinated investigation by the road patrol division and the detective bureau, which led to numerous arrests.
Computer crash software was implemented, radar speed signs were set up around the city, DUI educational exercises for high school students were conducted and many other community-related efforts.
“Implementation of new technologies and maintaining updated equipment is probably one of the most reccurring themes each year,” Deems said.
“Law enforcement often struggles to keep up with new technologies due to not only the fast- paced changes, but also due to budgetary constraints. We have been able to procure many new technological devices both in the patrol cars and in use at the department by both sworn and civilian personnel. Most of this has been done with little or no cost to the city, all thanks to state and federal grants obtained during each year.”
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