TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

Local News

January 28, 2013

Crime in the Tri-County: 2012

Drugs remain biggest problem

CORBIN — By Jeff Noble, Staff Writer

As in years past, drugs remained the number one problem in the Tri-County in 2012.

While one sheriff reported a decrease in the number of meth labs broken down, all sheriffs and police chiefs say crimes dealing with prescription drugs, and related crimes such as thefts and burglaries, continue to be their biggest concern in 2013.

That’s the case in Corbin, where problems with prescription pills are up, according to Maj. Rob Jones, public affairs officer of the city’s police department.

“It seems like prescription medications were off the roof in 2012. It’s like I’ve never seen it. Meth arrests are down a little from last year, but the problem with meth is that those making meth are getting so good with these one-stop labs, that it’s hard to catch.”

The pill problem is the prime concern for police. Jones cited one reason for the problem — users and traffickers getting the pills from pain clinics in southern states.

“The ease of getting pain pills is unreal. One ‘Roxy’ (OC30) pill is worth around $25-30 on the street. They go the clinics, get the pills, and bring them back here to sell.”

Two other crimes are up in Corbin, according to police. Jones noted a big spike in shoplifting cases, which totaled 197 in 2012.

“It’s way up. Seems like those shoplifters are taking what they steal to vendors malls and flea markets and selling them.”

Also up was the number of domestic violence cases, which totaled 198 last year. Jones said a number of reasons could have contributed to the domestic violence increase over last year, including substance abuse and the economic situation in the region, which have created stressful situations for some families.

There was one decrease last year. That was DUI arrests in the city, which police say was at 73.

“One thing we noticed was that drunk driving arrests have dropped in Corbin. We credit that to the city making the sale of alcoholic beverages by the package legal last year. People are now buying their beer, wine and liquor and taking it home, instead of getting out on the roads like it used to be,” said Corbin’s police chief, David Campbell.

As for traffic accidents in the city, police worked 744 in 2012, an increase from around 700 a year ago. Overall, the number of cases worked last year was 621 last year, down from 650 in 2011. And the number of calls made to the department’s Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) system in 2012 totaled 17,394.

As for this year, Jones pointed out what happens crime-wise in Corbin is “untelling.”

“I see prescription drugs to continue to be our number one problem. The economy’s still down. People have to pay the bills, and pills are money.”

In London, the police had 14,257 calls for service in 2012, up from 12,519 calls in 2011. Police Chief Stewart Walker feels the increase is due to a situation much of the nation is experiencing — the economic downturn.

“We’ve had people down on their luck and lost their jobs, and as a result, some are going to crime. Personally, it’s up because of the economy.”

Problems with drugs remains a key priority with police. The biggest problem in 2012 was prescription medications.

“It all goes back to drugs. While we still have to deal with some meth, and we actually made some heroin arrests in 2012, prescription pills are the number one concern,” Walker said.

One drug category was down in 2012. There were 247 drug-related complaints last year, compared to 291 in 2011. Meanwhile, 134 drug-related offenses were reported in 2012, up from 121 a year ago.

“If we have a case, we work it, and we send a message. If you’re doing drugs, we search you out and we’ll get you. We work the complaints thoroughly,” said Walker.

He added that in 2011-12, London Police seized about 39 vehicles involved in crimes, with the majority seized due to drug trafficking. In 2012, they collected by court order $12,967 in restitution awarded to crime victims. That figure does not reflect the total amount of restitution actually owed to victims, which he said could be greater.

In the last seven years, police in London has spent some $300,000 in the fight against drugs.

“It is not taxpayer money. We’ve utilized money generated from property and money forfeited to enhance the police department’s operation, purchase police cruisers and equipment, and provide special equipment for our School Resource Officers to use in the Laurel County Schools,” Walker stated.

There were two murders in London last year, up from one in 2011. All three were drug-related. No rapes were reported in 2012, down from three in 2011. And the number of robberies last year remained the same from a year ago, at eight.

There was a decrease in burglaries in the city, with 53 in 2012, down from 62 in 2011.

“Maybe it’s because we’ve arrested the career criminals. We’re tickled that it’s down,” said the chief.

There were some increases. Auto thefts were up last year at 18, compared to 14 in 2011. So were the reports of shoplifting, with 323 listed in 2012, compared to 268 in 2011. Walker felt some of the shoplifting arrests may be related to the soft economy in the region.

In London, traffic accidents were down with 1,248 reported last year, compared to 1,306 in 2011. Walker said better traffic enforcement and the department getting grants to help them crack down on drunk drivers made a difference in the past year. The number of DUI complaints were also down in 2011, at 658, compared to 771 in 2011. The chief contributed that to education and awareness campaigns like “Drive Smart” and using seat belts as one of the reasons for the lower totals.

London’s police chief pointed out last year’s statistics could hold a key in what crime could be in 2013.

“By looking at those statistics, common sense tells us, and with the economy continuing to tank and the cost of services going up, we anticipate more calls this year.”

In 2012, crime increased in Williamsburg, especially theft and burglary, with city police handling 78 burglaries, 201 theft complaints and 159 shoplifting cases during that time.

Police Chief Wayne Bird said the two types of crimes were, in his words, “the biggest increase by far,” and blamed the rise due to two things common in the region.

“We expected this, because of the economy and drugs. In fact, 90 percent of the thefts and burglaries were drug-related.”

Prescription pills continue to be the biggest drug problem in the city, and Bird feels one reason is because of people in the area traveling to southern states to visit pain clinics and bringing the pills back up north.

“Absolutely. Most of the problems stemmed from the pain clinics down in Florida, Georgia and in Nashville, Tenn. Local people would go there, purchase an abundance of pain pills from the clinics, and bring that big amount here to sell on the street, making more money off the sales than what they purchased the pills for at the clinics.”

He added for some people to buy the pills, they need money, and some resort to stealing metal, like copper.

“We saw that in 2012, and we still have metal theft cases every day. People break into homes every day and steal copper. The state passed a bill in July of last year that was more stringent on scrap yards, making them report to law enforcement every 24 hours. But I have yet to see any report from the scrap yards,” noted Bird.

At one point last July, up to 10 copper thefts involving AT&T lines in the Williamsburg area were reported to Williamsburg police and the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department.

Bird said the thefts of AT&T lines “seemed to have slowed down later in the year,” as did the number of alcohol-related DUI reports in 2012.

“We rarely saw alcohol-related DUI’s in 2012, but we saw more drug-related DUI’s last year. But recently we’re been seeing more alcohol-related DUI’s, because of the package stores open in Corbin.”

With what his department experienced last year, Bird expects more of the same major problems in 2013, with metal thefts, burglaries, drug-related DUI’s and prescription pills being the big reasons.

In 2012, over 6,000 calls were turned into Williamsburg Police, with a total of 1,067 criminal arrests. Chief Bird also noted the biggest number of CAD (Computer-Aided Dispatch calls) were called in on Tuesdays and Wednesdays last year, with 1,056 calls Tuesdays and 1,034 Wednesdays. In addition, the busiest time for calls to the department were during the mid-afternoon to early evening hours 3-7 p.m., when a total of 1,624 calls were made. The heaviest hour for those calls was from 5-6 p.m, when 431 calls were made to police in 2012.

Drugs have also been a headache for police in Barbourville. The city’s police chief, Mike Broughton, said 2012 was not a good year, with the combination of pain pills and the sagging economy the one-two punch that’s created the problems in crimes.

“We’ve experienced murders, bank robberies, armed robberies and thefts last year. We contribute that to the prescription drug problem we’re experiencing in Southeast Kentucky. The methamphetamine problem is picking up, and we’re now seeing heroin.”

And Broughton brought up another trend that’s directly related to the drug use that’s plagued the city for last 12 months.

“The most alarming trend is drug overdose deaths. It’s a sickening trend to look at and see those who have died due to drugs. I know there’s not a family in Knox County who’ve experienced that. It crosses all boundaries.”

Crime statistics for Barbourville in 2012 were not ready to be released, according to Broughton in a phone interview Thursday, and were unavailable at press time. He said an outbreak of the flu was the reason, which has affected him and the city’s assistant police chief as well.

As for the current year, Broughton doesn’t feel optimistic about crimes decreasing, especially with prescription pills continuing to be rampant in the region.

“If it’s not one thing, it’s another. I really don’t know what to expect in 2013.”

Like the rest of the Tri County and southeastern Kentucky, pain pills remain the top drug problem in Whitley County in 2012. Sheriff Colan Harrell said in an interview Tuesday that the year in crime was pretty active, with methamphetamine activity “coming and going,” but being more slanted toward the prescription pills.

“Pain medication is the drug of choice. It’s easier for the drug dealer to conceal it, and they get more on their return. Drugs are still a problem that we’re still addressing everyday, and I can tell you we’ll have more arrests in 2013 which will be pleasing to the public. We’re addressing the situation and we’ll have results,” noted Harrell.

One related trend last year were the statistics for crimes like theft, burglary and stolen vehicles. Harrell pointed out that many of those crimes were drug related, and had reasons to back it up.

“Those still go back to drugs. They’re out to pay for the drugs, so they steal copper wire, or a TV, or they max out Mom’s credit card to to get the money. When that runs out, they start stealing their neighbor’s stuff. A lot of parents want to deny it’s going on. It’s understandable, but they’ve got to address the situation,” Harrell said.

Calling the Whitley County Sheriff’s Department “a medium-sized department for southeastern and eastern Kentucky,” Harrell stated he has 15 sworn professionals on staff, with one being a full-time narcotics officer and two school officers, along with a narcotics section that worked around 110 cases and found eight meth labs in 2012. During the past year, a total of 8,702 complaints, or incidents, were called into the county’s 9-1-1 center. Being along a major Interstate highway also added to the total, as 709 vehicle accidents and 312 reckless driving complaints were reported.

Not reported in the figures were one murder in the county, which came from an assault on Dec. 15. Harrell said that figure may not be shown until the 2013 statistics are released a year from now.

One surprise in 2012 was the continued reduction in the number of meth labs in Laurel County. Statistics from the Laurel County Sheriff’s Department showed 48 meth labs were taken down over the past 12 months. While that paled in comparison to the 477 meth labs taken down in the county in 2011, Sheriff John Root still have encouraging words to the reduction.

“We credit the hard work of our staff for the work in fighting meth labs the last two years. That, and the fact that we’re being on the same page in the war against drugs,” Root Tuesday.

Still, the biggest concern to law enforcement there remains prescription drugs. That, and the fact that drug-related crimes such as burglary and theft, are also problems in Laurel County.

“When criminals need money for drugs, they steal and break in. It’s just like the other counties in this region. I just wish we had more personnel to fight it,” Root said.

The past year was a busy one at the Laurel dispatch office in London. Overall, the dispatch center took 16,109 calls for assistance. The busiest time of the day for most calls was from 5-6 p.m., with Friday and Saturday being the days of the week the most calls were made.

Laurel County’s location at the crossroads of I-75, KY 80 to the west and the Hal Rogers Parkway to the east, and a busy U.S. 25 to Corbin also kept the department busy on the roads. A total of 1,023 non-injury crashes, 352 injury crashes and 673 DUI complaints were recorded.

For 2013, Root has a goal in mind, and it has to deal with the drug situation.

“My hope is to do the prescription drugs like we did the meth labs. We’ll fight it tooth and toenail, and hopefully, we’ have great results,” said Sheriff Root.

Crime statistics from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office were not available at press time.

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