Drug-related crime strains police manpower

December 10, 2017 GMT

Drugs and crime go hand in hand.

A surge in crack cocaine activity a decade ago drove Huntington’s violent crime rate to its highest level ever in 2017 at 754 violent crimes per 100,000 people, the measure used by the FBI. That was low by Detroit standards, which had a rate of 2,289 that year, but much higher than the 467 average rate for cities our size.

More importantly, it all seemed to be such a change from the quieter, lowcrime image that the Tri-State had for many years.

A stronger police presence and innovative community efforts helped pull that violent crime rate down the following years, but now the opioid epidemic is pushing it back up again, particularly as much of the activity has moved from prescription drugs to illicit heroin sales.

The city has reached a record for homicides at 16, as the year comes to an end, and figures released earlier this year show that the violent crime rate has been creeping up again over the last several years, from 545 in 2014 to 593 in 2015 to 644 in 2016.

As police officials met with members of City Council’s Public Safety Committee last week, the explanation for that increase was pretty straightforward — drugs and domestic violence.

“I tell folks, when they ask me, ‘What can I personally do to not be a victim of a homicide in Huntington?’ The big things you can do is don’t be involved in the drug trade, and if you’re in a domestic relationship that has violent undertones or overtones, get out of it,” said Huntington Police Capt. Hank Dial.

As readers know, drug-related crime goes far beyond the obvious crimes of possession and trafficking to include property crimes committed to get money for drugs, violence that erupts over drug use and drug trafficking and crimes committed while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Our community also deals with other collateral damage, such as increasing cases of child neglect and abuse.

Unfortunately, and despite remarkable efforts on many fronts, opioid use continues to be on the rise.

As residents noted at the meeting last week, they are concerned about whether the Police Department has the manpower to handle what is an increasingly difficult situation. The city, of course, has financial challenges, but it is time to review those staffing levels and see what Huntington can do get more officers on the street.

Without question, battling the drug epidemic requires a multipronged approach that involves prevention and treatment as well as enforcement. But drug-related crime falls almost entirely to our police, and they need the tools and the manpower to keep residents safe.