Police tactics concern Bath business owners

May 17, 2007|by TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - Town of Bath business owners and residents said they want to feel safe, but not intimidated by the police department, and about 50 people met Wednesday with Bath Town Council members to voice their concerns.

Many business owners praised the police department and the job it was doing for the town, especially in the area of drug-related arrests, but many at the meeting were concerned about some of the tactics used by the department.

Sally Marshall, vice president of Travel Berkeley Springs, said using the drug dog to patrol the streets where people shop is intimidating, and when there is a traffic incident, it appears that several police cars arrive on the scene including the drug dog, she said.

Marshall requested that the council review police department polices and "issue clear written guidelines on appropriate behavior and use of force," she said.


Also bad for tourism are the complaints she received from visitors and residents about the parking enforcement officer being disrespectful and rude to them.

Marshall said parking always has been a problem, but the number of town parking spaces has decreased, and she asked the council to do a survey for additional parking spots.

Chuck Wheeler, owner of Mountain Laurel and president of the Berkeley Springs-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce, said the town needs a healthy tourist trade and he recognizes the need for aggressive law enforcement, but "we are concerned about the town's image."

He said the town's success as a tourist town is being "seriously jeopardized by the town's policing policies and the department's methodologies."

Wheeler echoed Marshall in that he received many complaints from customers about the parking officer.

"Parking violations are not criminal offenses, and they are treated as such," he said.

Wheeler said about 35 percent of the annual sales occur on Saturdays on Fairfax Street, and customers have spent between $10,000 and $20,000. The 14 parking meters on the street generate about $28 on a Saturday.

"Saturday would be a good time not to enforce parking," Wheeler said.

Mayor Susan Webster said the council is considering that, and Councilman David Crosby said the council is looking at meter revenue in general.

Resident Nancy Sostaric, who owns the Country Inn next to Berkeley Springs State Park, said, "We are at a crossroads in the town with lots of change." She said she has to call the police a lot with drug problems in the park.

Business owner and resident Andrew Gosline said "the town has a huge drug problem," and he had to clear out some of his apartment dwellers because of it. He said he wished the "drug users would hang out in Hancock or someplace else."

Deborah Minton, wife of police chief James Minton, defended the police department at the meeting, saying if there is a problem, people need to talk with the police chief.

James Minton, who did not attend the meeting, said he will meet with the mayor and the council members, and "I will address their concerns."

Councilwoman Nancy Harvey said a public meeting will be held next week.

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