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Residents fed up with crime

Two state delegates and a state official heard concerns about crime, ATV riders on Blue Ridge Mountain.

Two state delegates and a state official heard concerns about crime, ATV riders on Blue Ridge Mountain.

October 17, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

HARPERS FERRY, W.Va. - About 25 Blue Ridge Mountain residents vented their frustrations over repeated house burglaries, vandalism and other crime in the area during a town meeting Wednesday with Joe Martin, West Virginia secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety, and two local elected officials.

Residents say their homes have become targets of burglars who break in during the day while they are at work.

Some people said their homes have been broken into up to three times and up to $10,000 worth of valuables have been stolen.

Criminals are attracted to mailboxes in the rural area to vandalize them or conduct "systematic theft" from the boxes, residents said.

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Residents complained about people dumping truck parts, old tires and deer carcasses in housing developments in the area and young people driving recklessly on all-terrain vehicles.

The Blue Ridge Mountain area of Jefferson County, W.Va., has "become a fun house for people on ATVs," said Susanne Koenig, acting vice-president of the Keyes Ferry Acres Citizens Association.

Koenig said signs have been posted in the area in an attempt to discourage ATV riding around the developments.

"The drivers just flaunt it," said Koenig. "A lot of these are not life-threatening, but they erode the quality of life," she said.

The residents own property in an area on the eastern edge of Jefferson County south of Harpers Ferry.

Crime on the Blue Ridge Mountain has been an issue for years and residents complained Wednesday that while it gets some attention from elected officials, there is little follow-through.

Dels. Dale Manuel and John Doyle, both D-Jefferson, brought Martin to the Blue Ridge Mountain Fire Co. on Wednesday afternoon to meet with residents who want more police presence in the mountain area, possibly through the establishment of a police substation.

After a long discussion, Manuel and Doyle suggested the homeowners set up a committee to reach a consensus on what kind of help they want. The committee will also have representation from local law enforcement agencies, Manuel said.

Martin, who oversees the West Virginia State Police, said there are 570 troopers in the state, 132 fewer than a little over a year ago. The state is preparing to start two new trooper classes in January and possibly a third next July, but Martin said he could not guarantee more troopers for Jefferson County.

Martin said he will have senior state police officials review the manpower situation in Jefferson County and the proposal for a police substation.

Jefferson County has had up to 15 troopers in past years but is down to 12. Berkeley County has had up to 24 troopers but is down to 15.

Martin said the state is losing troopers due to attrition and because they are being lured away to take higher-paying jobs elsewhere.

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Department has 14 deputies and is struggling with its workload, said Chief Deputy Jesse Jones, who was at the meeting.

"We're swamped," Jones said.

Residents asked Martin, Doyle and Manuel how police departments hope to protect the area given how fast it is growing.

Some of the speakers said they have thought about taking matters into their own hands. One man threatened to string up a piano wire to catch passing ATV riders.

"I'm going to tackle them, tie them up and then call the police," the man said.

G. Warren Mickey, a Democratic candidate for the Jefferson County Commission, said the commissioners have several million dollars in the bank. Mickey asked Martin if he would be willing to commit more troopers to Jefferson County if the County Commission built a substation on the mountain.

Martin repeated his statement that he could not make any promises about more manpower.

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