Crime numbers irk W.Va. gambling foe

May 03, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A local minister who has opposed gambling expansion at Charles Town Races said he is upset over a report that says the county's 1998 crime rate was 19.1 percent higher than in 1997.

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Mike Withem, pastor at the First Baptist Church of Ranson, said he is particularly concerned that Ranson's crime rate has jumped 21.6 percent, the figure reported in the new state Uniform Crime Report compiled by the West Virginia State Police.

During a public hearing last September on the track's proposal to add another 500 slot machines, Ranson Police Chief William Roper commented that there has been no increase in crime in town, Withem said.

The Uniform Crime Report bases the crime rate on the number of reported crimes in seven categories including murder, rape, robbery, felonious assault, breaking and entering, theft and car theft.


In Ranson, the largest increase in crime between 1997 and 1998 was in the theft category, which increased from 62 to 88 cases, the state police report said.

Roper said the number of theft cases may be accurate, but he believes the Uniform Crime Report for Ranson is basically "incorrect."

"That just doesn't sound right," said Roper, who added the report "kind of floored me" when he read about it in a newspaper Wednesday.

Roper offered statistics that showed crime is decreasing in Ranson. A total of 595 crimes were reported to the police department in 1996, followed by a total of 442 that were reported in 1997 and 430 in 1998, Roper said.

Where as the Uniform Crime Report considers only seven categories of crime, Roper said his figures included all types of crimes.

A West Virginia State Police official said Wednesday that the statistics for Ranson are accurate. The report is compiled by using statistics that police departments send to state police headquarters in South Charleston every month, said Sandy Chaney, a Uniform Crime Report analyst in the South Charleston office.

In recent years, opponents of expanded gambling at the track have said they feared crime would rise in the county if the expansions were allowed.

When the state Lottery Commission held a public hearing on the track's plan to add 500 slot machines, opponents pleaded with the commission to slow gambling growth, saying there has not been enough data gathered to determine if video lottery and slot machines have been good for the county.

Withem told the Lottery Commission it would be irresponsible for it to decide whether the track should have slot machines because the state's crime statistics for 1998 were not available when the hearing was held.

1988 was the first year the track offered video lottery.

Withem said Wednesday he thinks at least part of the county's crime rate increase can be attributed to video lottery and slot machines.

Police agencies in the county said they do not know what caused the crime rate to go up.

The marketing director at the track said Withem's comments are out of line.

"If the police departments don't know, how does he know. It's absolutely ridiculous," said Bill Bork Jr.

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