Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 22, 2013

Southwest Virginia sees rise in violent and non-violent crimes in 2012

By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

TAZEWELL, Va. — Local officials cite drugs as the leading cause for the rise in violent and non-violent crimes in Southwest Virginia during the past year.

According to the recently released 2012 Virginia Crime Analysis Report, Tazewell County reported 1,296 violent crimes in 2012, 237 violent crimes more than in 2011. The number of violent crimes declined in Giles and Buchanan counties but remain relatively the same in Bland County.

The number of narcotics-related crimes increased in 2012 in Tazewell County with 261 narcotic-related crimes, 10 more than last year. Drug-related crimes also increased in Bland County but decreased in Buchanan and Giles Counties.

In 2012, Tazewell County reported two murders, a negligent manslaughter, three kidnappings, six robberies, 21 aggravated assaults, five arsons, 54 burglaries, 416 larcenies, 82 incidents of check fraud, 38 incidents of general fraud, and 15 weapons violations.

Tazewell County Sheriff Brian Hieatt said many of the crimes his department sees are indirectly related to drugs.

“Drugs is a contributing factor to a lot of crime,” Hieatt said. “A lot of larcenies, burglaries and other crimes are connected to drugs. A lot of crimes are connected to drugs. We have requested to be included in the Appalachian HIDTA to help combat drugs and drug related crimes on a different level. If you look at our drug and narcotic offenses, they have gone up. We have added on personnel to our drug task force and that has helped bring in more of these drug offenders. We are getting good charges and indictments, which is why there is an increased number in these crimes. We are taking a lot of steps to work on that.”

Non-violent crimes also rose in Tazewell County with 826 non-violent crimes reported in 2012, 48 more than reported in 2011. Giles County also saw an increase in non-violent crimes though the non-violent crime rate decreased in Bland and Buchanan Counties.

Tazewell County Chief Deputy Harold Heatley said many non-violent crimes also relate back to drugs.

“A lot of the events they look at are breaking and enterings, check fraud, and other crimes,” he said. “I would say 95 to 97 percent of time there is some correlation to the narcotics business. We have added two drug K-9s and extra positions to drug task forces. We have done a lot more training. Hopefully, we can continue to move forward. The positive we need to put on this is not that our numbers are up, but that we are doing a better job of detecting and finding these people. With new training and new equipment we are able to get out and do more things to combat the drug problem.”

Tazewell County Commonwealth Attorney Dennis Lee said Tazewell County has a relatively low violent crime rate when compared with other counties throughout the Commonwealth.

“The vast majority of our crimes are property crimes,” he said. “They are driven by drug addiction and substance abuse, and direct drug crimes such as distribution count for easily 80 percent or more of our crimes. Per capita, we do have a low violent crime rate, so that is one bright spot.”

Lee said more rehabilitation and recovery facilities are needed to keep drug-related crimes from happening.

“The root of our problem is addiction and until we take drastic steps to address addiction through prevention and aggressive prosecution as well as rehabilitation our county will not see improvement,” Lee said. “We need more affordable care for people suffering from addiction, prescription pill addiction, and the care is almost nonexistent. Without recovery, narcotic use is a terminal condition and we have one of the highest per capita overdose rates in the Commonwealth of Virginia. We are doing drug court programs, and programs in our schools to prevent these crimes, but it is a societal problem.”

For the complete copy of the 2012 report visit www.vsp.virginia.gov

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com