Drug problem growing

Published 12:49 pm Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Task force work shows in state report spike

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The number of reported drug-related offenses have skyrocketed in Isle of Wight County, as well as the towns of Smithfield and Windsor.

At the same time, the overall number of reported criminal incidents have fallen in Isle of Wight and Smithfield, but have gone up in Windsor.

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Reported drug offenses have tripled in Isle of Wight, doubled in Smithfield and jumped 900 percent in Windsor from 2011 to 2016, according to the Virginia State Police annual “Crime in Virginia” report. 

Arrests for those crimes have shot up 400 percent in the past five years in Isle of Wight, according to the report. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Arrest numbers are not available for the two towns.

In Surry County, the number of reported drug offenses dropped by half, from six to three from 2011 to 2016. Overall reports went up about 17 percent.

Lt. Thomas Potter with the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office attributes the increase in drug offenses and arrests to the county being part of the Merherrin Drug Task Force, which also includes the Virginia State Police, Southampton County and the city of Emporia. Isle of Wight joined the task force in 2013, which provided more resources to the Sheriff’s Office to target those involved in the drug trade, Potter said.

“Isle of Wight investigators assigned to the task force continue to lead the group in arrests made and cases completed. Also, Isle of Wight County is not immune from the opioid epidemic that is sweeping the country currently. Our investigators continue to see the effects of heroin and prescription drug abuse in Isle of Wight County,” said Potter.

Isle of Wight County Sheriff Mark Marshall said the increase in opioid use, as well as heroin, has led to his deputies being equipped with Narcan (naloxone), which can revive someone having a drug overdose.

The most problematic is heroin laced with Fentanyl, Marshall said.

“That’s a heart stopper,” he said.

In Smithfield, police officers were more likely to encounter marijuana in small amounts rather than opioids last year, said Smithfield Police Chief Alonzo Howell.

Marijuana arrests were also the most prevalent overall last year in Virginia, representing nearly 62 percent of drug arrests, according to “Crime in Virginia.”

Windsor Police Chief Rodney D. “Dan” Riddle attributes the jump in drug-related incident reports to proactive policing and the role Route 460 plays in drug interdiction. The number went from five incident reports in 2011 to 52 in 2016.

The non-resident arrest rate for drugs is higher than for residents of Windsor, he said, adding that drug reports that result from stops on Route 460 within town limits would be reported in Windsor.

There is a good deal of drug traffic between Richmond and the Tidewater area, he said, adding that the current opioid crisis could be fueling some of it.

“Nobody is immune to it,” said Riddle of the crisis that includes everything from oxycodone pills to heroin.

Overall, the most commonly reported offenses in Isle of Wight, Surry, Smithfield and Windsor are larceny and simple assault — and have consistently been the most commonly reported crimes for many years. Larceny, which is basically stealing, does not include car theft, which is reported separately in the report.

Statewide, larcenies peaked in frequency in August in 2016, with the least amount committed in February, according to the report.

The overall rate reported incidents, however, dropped 6 percent in Isle of Wight County over the past five years — from 849 to 800.

Potter said the Sheriff’s Office has made an attempt to educate residents to prevent being the victim of a property crime.

But when it comes to simple assault, no amount of crime prevention can avert this, Potter said.

“People will be people and at times tempers flare which often lead to some type of assaults,” he said.

At the same time, Group A arrests — those are offenses ranging from drug offenses, simple assault to burglary, larceny, weapons law violations to murder — have increased 70 percent from 2011 – 2016.

Potter said that could be due to the Sheriff’s Office more correctly reporting those statistics.

“One of the outcomes of accreditation is that we are constantly reviewing how we classify offenses and in such how they are reported. Secondly, we have experienced in the last few years an increase in home burglaries and other property crimes. Fortunately, we have made arrest in these cases,” Potter said.

The Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office was accredited in 2014, a state process conducted by the Virginia Law Enforcement Professional Standards Commission, under the auspices of the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.

At the same time, the county’s population has increased by nearly 4 percent from 2010 to 2016, according to the U.S. Census. The number of sworn deputies employed by the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office, however, went up by 26 percent, from 38 to 48 in five years. 

In Smithfield, the number of reported incidents actually went down over the past five years, from 413 in 2011 to 369 in 2016 — or a 10 percent decline. 

Howell attributes the change to yearly fluctuations.

The total number of reported incidents in Windsor went up 50 percent, from 105 in 2011 to 157 in 2016.

The number of officers in Smithfield and Windsor remained steady from 2011 to 2016.   {/mprestriction}