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Heroin is ‘burdensome threat,' Huntington Police Chief warns

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By James E. Casto
For The State Journal

Heroin poses "a burdensome threat to the people of Huntington," Huntington Police Chief Skip Holbrook warns in a new report.

In a 20-page "drug threat assessment" prepared for submission to Mayor Steve Williams and Huntington City Council, Holbrook notes that property crime in the city is on the increase as addicts steal so they can buy illegal drugs. Its cheaper price means heroin has replaced prescription drugs, principally oxycodone, as the drug of choice for many addicts.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, West Virginia has continued to stay atop the national rankings with respect to the highest rate of prescription drug overdose deaths. West Virginia previously ranked first in the nation. More recent data places West Virginia third, behind Nevada and New Mexico.

Huntington's current rise in property crime "is directly related to the number of drug-addicted individuals needing to fuel their drug habit," the chief says. "Persons addicted to drugs resort to residential burglary, car breaking and enterings and merchandise theft to pay for the cost associated with obtaining illicit drugs."

With 111 officers and 15 civilian employees, the Huntington Police Department is at its highest staffing level in recent memory. Nonetheless, Holbrook is recommending the hiring of five additional new police officers. The five would be designated as community police officers and each assigned to a specific residential neighborhood in the city.

Such community policing, Holbrook says, "can enhance customer service and facilitate more contact between police and citizens. It also can establish strong relations and mutual accountability, thereby reducing crime, social disorder and raising the perception of safety."

The new budget Williams has presented City Council contains no funding for additional police officers, but the mayor nevertheless says the chief's idea shouldn't be simply dismissed. Williams notes that in recent years the department has proved adept at obtaining millions of dollars in grant funding for staff positions, new cruisers and other equipment. 

While warning of a continuing threat posed by illegal drugs, Holbrook notes the department seized a record amount of illegal narcotics in 2013, including 17,343 dosage units of prescription drugs; 5,500 grams of heroin; 2,622 grams of synthetic drugs, 694 grams of powder cocaine and 428 grams of crack cocaine.

Many of those seizures came, he said, as a result of 1,670 tips received last year by the department's anonymous drug crime tip line.

Holbrook's full report is posted on the city's website at cityofhuntington.com.