Concerned community leaders questioned law enforcement and school system officials about local drug problems Tuesday during the monthly Randolph County America's Promise Coalition meeting.
Rebecca Vance, director of the Randolph County Family Resource Network, called the meeting to order at the Elkins-Randolph County Health Department.
Randolph County Sheriff Jack Roy told the several dozen people in attendance about the Randolph County Tip Line, the phone number for which is 304-636-TIPS. Residents can call and leave anonymous tips about drugs, but also about child abuse and other crimes as well, Roy said.
The Inter-Mountain photo by Brad Johnson
Taking part in Tuesday’s Randolph County America’s Promise Coalition are, from left, Elkins Mayor Duke Talbott; Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker; Jeff Roy, investigator for the prosecutor’s office; Jim Wilson of Home Base; and Randolph County Sheriff Jack Roy.
Vance pointed out that the tip line is funded by a private donor, with Gary Skinner of Skinner Insurance the donor for 2012. The cost to the donor is about $35 a month, Vance said, asking that businesses and individuals interested in sponsoring the tip line in the future call her at 304-636-4454.
Roy said it would be difficult to determine how many arrests have come from the tip line, noting that tips play a part in investigations along with information gained in other ways. "It would be a really vague percentage," Roy said. "It would be a guestimate, really."
The sheriff was asked at the meeting Tuesday if a joint drug task force, utilizing officers from the local police departments, could be created through grant money. Roy answered that it was difficult because in a rural area departments don't have enough officers to form a task force.
Elkins Mayor Duke Talbott said, "I have two funded police positions right now - I can't fill them. And the money's there, all they have to do is walk up and pass the test. We can't find the qualified people."
Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker said, "We have had the opportunity to reinstitute the captains' meetings, in which the sheriff, the state police sergeant and the captain of the city police all meet and try to exchange information. They all indicated a willingness to look into a task force, but you have to devote officers specifically to that and solely to that."
Vance said the county Family Resource Network "can look at different possibilities for grants" to provide overtime funding for officers to work on drug cases.
Local rental property owner Richard Holland, who said he was present at the meeting to "represent landlords," asked Roy if the drug cases his department sees take place primarily in rental properties or in privately owned residences. Roy said it was "pretty evenly matched."
Talbott said "possibly 90 percent" of all city police calls are about drugs, and that the department receives calls "on every shift" about one rental property in particular.
Holland said he would like to have information from the police departments about calls and drug tips in his rental properties.
Randolph County Commission President Mike Taylor said it was important to maintain the "anonymity of the tip line," noting "we've gotta be very cautious" about providing such information outside the police departments.
Talbott said, "We have been giving consideration to invoicing property owners for police calls in excess of a certain number."
Holland asked Parker, "Can you check with the magistrate system to see if we can pass that charge along to our tenants? Can we sue to collect in magistrate court on that?"
Parker said it would depend on how the city ordinance is written, and on how the rental agreements are designed.
Vance asked if anyone present wanted to volunteer to help form a coalition committee to look into creating a drug task force, and Holland said he would.
Later in the meeting, Vance invited Dr. James Phares, the Randolph County superintendent of schools, to speak about drug testing of students, teachers and school personnel
"We use a hair sample, which gives us a 90-day profile of whether or not a student has been using drugs," Phares said. "Under West Virginia law and federal law, the only groups of students we are allowed to drug test are those that are in extracurricular activities.
"What we do on a first offense is, we allow the parent to know we've detected a certain drug and the student is held harmless if the parent takes the child to a drug counselor or takes them to the hospital and gets it verified."
Phares said bus drivers are drug tested after any accident, whether it is their fault or not.
"We also drug test teachers to the fullest extent of the law that we're allowed," he said.
"We can only drug test teachers if they come to school and give us probable cause" such as appearing inebriated or smelling of drugs or alcohol, he said.
If a teacher who has given probable cause refuses to take a drug test, they are fired for insubordination, Phares said, adding that there have been several such cases in Randolph County in recent years.
Phares said the school system began drug testing last summer, and will share the first annual results at an upcoming board meeting.
Vance told Phares that it was her understanding that when drug dogs come into schools, they aren't allowed to search students, just lockers.
Phares said that "aggressive" drug dogs search lockers, and "passive" drug dogs can search students. He said so far no passive drug dogs have been available to bring to a county school.
Phares said the school system would "gladly" partner on a grant for a passive drug dog for the city police or sheriff's department.
The next coalition meeting will be July 10 at the Elkins-Randolph County Health Department.