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Aldridge to retire following 8 years as Charles Town's chief

March 14, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The Charles Town Police Department has 16 officers, but within 10 years, Police Chief Mike Aldridge believes there will be 50 people in the department.

And Aldridge said there likely will be two substations of the department, including one at the Huntfield development, where more than 3,000 houses are to be built.

But it won't be anything Aldridge will have to worry about.

After overseeing the department for eight years, Aldridge has decided to retire.

Aldridge said Sunday that he will retire March 27, although March 25 probably will be his last day.

"It's time. I'm ready to go," said the 64-year-old Aldridge, who has been contemplating leaving the department.

A former federal Drug Enforcement Agency official, Aldridge took over the department following some memorable drug problems in the city.

Around 1997, drug dealing was so bad in the area around Evitt's Run Park that police had to clear out the drug traffickers so children could attend special events there, police said.

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Charles Town residents often showed up at city council meetings to complain about drug-related crime, which included open-air drug markets, gunplay and shootings. In a fatal shooting in 1993, the victim was found lying along South West street clutching a chunk of crack.

Then Aldridge and city officials started getting tough.

Charles Town City Council members approved additional officers for the department, and Aldridge brought a federal Drug Enforcement Agency team to town to investigate the trafficking.

The DEA team conducted a five-month investigation in the city that resulted in 22 arrests.

Following the action, it was a different town, Aldridge and residents said.

Suspicious people who had hung out on street corners at all hours of the day were gone and there no longer was a constant flow of traffic in the west end of town where trafficking was heavy, residents said.

City Council member Geraldine Willingham said she remembers when people doubted that the town's drug problems could be eradicated.

"I have nothing but respect for him and the job he's done. I'm sorry to see him go," Willingham said.

"He was the man for the time. He's done a fantastic job and has built a first-class police department," Mayor Randy Hilton said.

Aldridge said Sunday that he is finished with law enforcement.

He said his plan is to "get south, where it's warm."

Specifically, that means a move to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Aldridge said he has not yet purchased a place there, but he wants to get his Jefferson County home on the market so he can make the move.

There is no word on Aldridge's successor.

That will be up to Hilton, who said he does not want to name anyone until after the city election, which is in late May.

If someone new is elected mayor, Hilton said he wants that person to have the opportunity of naming a chief of police.

The police department has increased in numbers and in workload since Aldridge took over.

In 1998, the police department had 186 investigations, 206 arrests and issued 1,000 traffic citations, Aldridge said.

In 2004, the number of investigations rose to 771, there were 814 arrests, and traffic citations topped 5,000, Aldridge said.

Under Aldridge, the department grew from nine to 16 officers and a three-person investigations unit was added, among other operations, Aldridge said.

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