KINGWOOD — Preston County Sheriff’s deputies are attacking drug-related crimes on multiple fronts.
And they believe they are making a difference. For example, in 2012, more than 200 burglaries were reported in one year. Between April 10, 2018, and Jan. 15, 26 were reported. Many burglaries and other crimes occur because of addiction, law enfocement says.
“Our idea of combating all this drug issue is, we approached it with attacking it with the K-9s, attacking it with the criminal investigations, attaching it with road patrols and attacking it with our drug investigations,” Chief Deputy P.A. Pritt said.
Since April 2018, deputies have responded to more than 7,000 calls. That includes thefts, traffic stops, domestic assaults — the gamut of police work.
Since 2013, deputies’ work has resulted in the indictment of 102 people on 405 charges. In the second half of the last term of the Preston County Grand Jury, deputies investigated 31 of the 36 indictments returned.
“We try to be more proactive in our patrols,” Pritt said. “We try to hit areas periodically and randomly, east, west, back and forth, as we’ve got the manpower to do that.”
The department has also made a commitment to having an officer at Preston High and to have deputies attending school events.
They have been criticized by some for not formally joining a drug task force, but officers said in the past that wasn’t productive.
Task forces often take officers out of the area, Pritt said. “What’s going to be the higher priority,” he said, “Morgantown or Kingwood? They’re going to look at the bigger picture.”
And they do work in conjunction with the ATF, FBI, police in other states and various task forces, Capt. J.H. Bryan said. For example, Lt. G.E. Sinclair is part of a federal task force that investigates sexual assaults.
“Our Preston County problems sometimes become other peoples’ problems,” Pritt noted. For instance, Bryan recalled a string of camper thefts that spanned three states. “Our communication with a lot of these other agencies is better today than it’s even been.”
Two of the department’s 18 deputies are assigned full-time to drug investigations, and others are called in as needed.
Last year, 29 people were indicted on drug offenses in Preston County.
The department has four K-9 units that patrol with deputies and one K-9 tracking dog. Deputies in the special response team are trained in arrests and serving warrants in high risk situations.
As an example, Pritt said, in two recent warrant services, men — dangerous men, Bryan said — were hiding under trap doors in homes, posing a danger to officers entering the homes.
“These guys are focused. They know what to do and how to do it right and know how to do it safely,” Pritt said.
Preston also has an in-house forensic phone examiner, a polygraph examiner and a computer examiner. Two deputies are certified by the DEA in how to handles clandestine (meth) drug labs.
“We try to be proactive,” Pritt said. “That traffic stop can lead to a lot more. The drug dealer needs to drive. The guy who breaks into your house needs to drive.”
Despite their success, Pritt cautioned that a 100 percent crime solution rate is impossible, even if the drug problem is conquered. “You have your career criminals, and how do you make it stop?” he asked. “You make consequences for their actions.”
And, observed Cpl. C.R. Cline, “we’ve got a lot of distance to cover and are running 365, 24/7.”
“It’s just 18 of us, State Police and a handful of city officers. That’s not a good equation,” Pritt observed.
So what’s next?
“It needs to be a sustained effort,” Pritt said. “Same efficiency, same effort for a long period of time. We’ve just got to keep adapting to the situation as it arrives. Whatever it takes.”