By Tina Alvey
Discussions have begun in earnest to re-establish a multi-jurisdictional drug task force in Greenbrier County.
Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Via and Sheriff Jan Cahill anticipate the task force initially will involve the West Virginia State Police, Lewisburg Police Department and the Greenbrier County Sheriff’s Department. They also hope to regain federal recognition and participation with the reconstituted drug unit.
“It will be a joint, collaborative effort,” Via advised the Greenbrier County Commission during a meeting at the courthouse Tuesday evening. “It needs to happen.”
Cahill explained that having such a task force helps each participating law enforcement agency maximize its own resources by sharing information and assets with the other agencies involved in the cooperative venture.
Further, Cahill pointed out, it can curtail instances in which one agency inadvertently damages another’s investigation because information is not being routinely shared.
A major plank in the newly-elected sheriff’s campaign platform was his pledge to reconstitute the drug task force he had originally helped create in 2002 while serving with the State Police.
Via also campaigned on the issue in the lead-up to the November election.
The original task force was dissolved in 2010, when then-Sheriff Jim Childers withdrew his department from the venture and formed an internal drug unit at the Sheriff’s Department.
Lewisburg’s PD had already left the task force by then, having participated for only a couple of years, according to Police Chief Tim Stover.
In a Wednesday interview with The Register-Herald, Stover described the decision to withdraw from the task force as a “manpower issue.” He said, “We were short-handed and just needed someone on patrol.”
Manpower is no longer such a pressing issue, the chief said, adding that City Council has expressed interest in the drug task force discussions now taking place. While he cautioned that no decisions on the city’s participation have yet been made, Stover said he believes it would be a positive step in the escalating battle against prescription drug abuse.
“I just think it’s something we need,” Stover said. “It will be beneficial to the community.”
Stover also attended Tuesday’s county commission meeting, sitting with Cahill and Via, but not joining in their presentation to the commissioners.
Via noted various details about cost and structure still need to be addressed before the task force can be re-established. He said he is currently trying to secure low-cost office space for the task force, and a budget will need to be established for acquisition of furniture and equipment for that office.
From a personnel standpoint, Via said he considers the assignment of one officer each from State Police, Sheriff’s Department and Lewisburg PD to be “optimal.” Also under consideration is the employment of part-time administrative staff.
Via said he anticipates having “hard figures” on a proposed budget ready for the commission’s Jan. 22 meeting.
“It will take some money; we can’t run from that fact,” Via said.
In addition to eventually appealing to the commission for financial support, the task force’s organizers are also pursuing grant funds. Via said he hopes to receive word on grant money in May or June.
The commission endorsed the formation of the drug task force, while committing no funds at this point.
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