The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

August 29, 2013

Greenbrier violent crimes task force planned

By Tina Alvey
Register-Herald Reporter

LEWISBURG — Citing the rising numbers of drug-driven violent crimes in the region, Greenbrier County Prosecuting Attorney Patrick Via unveiled plans for an interagency violent crimes task force.

“We have more (violent crimes) than you would really like to think we have here,” Via told Greenbrier County Commissioners in a meeting Tuesday evening.

Via said the task force won’t deal with “paper crimes” or misdemeanors, instead focusing on such violent crimes as robbery, sexual assault and home invasions. Although he said that most of the county’s home invasions are linked to the drug trade, Via emphasized that the violent crimes task force will be separate from the interagency drug task force that he and Sheriff Jan Cahill are still in the process of creating.

Each task force is designed to draw participation from the Sheriff’s Department and West Virginia State Police, plus municipalities, if funding and personnel issues can be resolved. Each may also have what Via described as a “federal component.”

Via pointed out he does not yet have commitments for the violent crimes unit but said plans for the task force have been on the drawing board for some time.

“The sheriff and I have been talking about it for years — even before he became sheriff,” Via said.

“I think (this unit) will be a tremendous asset,” the prosecutor said.

The first of its kind in the state, the unit will be composed of “top investigative components” from each agency, brought together under one roof, he said.

Stressing that each agency would pay its own personnel and equipment costs, Via asked the county commission to give him 90 days to decide whether to use a county-owned house as the task force’s headquarters.

Located adjacent to the county courthouse, the historically-significant Sears kit home — known as a “Westly” model — previously was used as the local office for the West Virginia University Extension Service. The structure has fallen into disrepair in recent years, prompting its placement on the state’s endangered properties list.

Commission President Karen Lobban advised Via that a commitment has already been made to the county’s garden clubs to allow the Westly to serve as the centerpiece of next summer’s biennial homes tour, which will focus on various kit-built houses in the area.

The garden clubs and historical society volunteered to take on a major portion of the restoration work needed on the Westly in exchange for the promise they could use the house on the tour.

Via said he doesn’t think the garden club project will have any impact on his plans, based on his belief that it will take several more months of work to bring the task force together.

“I’m just planting the seed this evening,” Via said.

While he said he does not anticipate requesting any direct funding for the violent crimes unit, Via did tell the commissioners he hopes the county will continue to foot the bill for the Westly’s utilities.

The commission agreed to Via’s requests, including a separate plea for a dedicated cable line to provide necessary bandwidth to allow the prosecutor’s office to make full use of a sophisticated case management system that will eventually allow the office to go paperless. Via noted the state court system is moving in that same direction.

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