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Chief: Business owners helping combat crime downtown

August 10, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Alcohol consumption, panhandling and prostitution continue to be problems in downtown Martinsburg, but Martinsburg Police Department Chief Ted Anderson said a solid downtown business community has helped lower crime rates.

Anderson spoke Monday evening for about an hour to a group of 20 business owners and city officials.

There's room for optimism, he said.

The number of calls for police service has decreased since last year, especially over the summer. Some rental housing owners seem to be taking more of an interest in who is renting their apartments. The only store downtown that sells to-go containers of alcohol has a new proprietor, who is making an effort to eliminate loiterers and to not sell alcohol to those already drunk, Anderson told the group.

"It's a perception issue," Anderson said of whether Martinsburg is a place people should visit. "It is. It's a very safe place to go."

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Crime is more prevalent in other areas of the city than downtown, he said.

"The best way to drive out the wrong kind of people is to drive in the right kind," Anderson said.

The people sitting in City Council chambers are the right kind, who are trying to change Martinsburg for the better, he said.

Detective Sgt. George Swartwood said he and other officers are trying to eradicate the prostitution problem and planned to try to arrest one known offender before the night was over.

A little while later, Swartwood answered a cell phone call and then left, indicating to audience members that an arrest had been made.

The prostitutes are addicted to crack cocaine and heroin and sell themselves only to enable them to buy their next fix, Swartwood said.

He and Anderson both urged audience members to call the police department's dispatcher if they see anything suspicious. Stay on the line and describe the people involved because a patrol car might be right around the corner, they said.

Audience members asked a number of questions. Bruce Monforte, with the Market House Grill, said he likes that the city sometimes assigns an officer to "walk the beat" downtown. He asked if that will be done consistently.

Whenever possible, someone will perform foot patrol, Anderson said, adding that he hopes to one day have a full-time officer assigned to handle the downtown area.

Anderson, who's been with the police department for 27 years, said the downtown area has improved over the decades. When he worked patrol years ago there was a bar in every block or two. Fights broke out and sometimes windows were broken, he said.

"We don't have that now," Anderson said. "We've got the right kind of businesses downtown I think."

Officers took notes on where groups of people have been gathering and Anderson encouraged people to use his open-door policy.

After the meeting, he said he meets individually with business owners when asked and tries to hold a group meeting every couple of years or so.

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