Prosecutor explains crime trends

Upshur County Prosecuting Attorney Jake Reger spoke at Buckhannon Rotary this week about the types of cases handled by his office.

He said his staff is dedicated to serving the community, and tries to help make positive changes. He works with a victim’s advocate, two assistant prosecutors and a support staff.

“Anything positive that happens, it takes a lot of work with law enforcement,” he said during Tuesday’s meeting, adding that the county is lucky to have dedicated law enforcement officers.

Reger said he often is asked if he believes the economy has an impact on the rising crime rates, and he always answers, “Yes.” He said there has been an increase in shoplifting, and some of those cases have involved stealing food. He lamented that it is still a crime.

Reger said the regional jail bills have increased, and Upshur County is paying about $4,850 a day for jail expenses. He said that in January, the regional jail bill was more than $60,000. The overcrowding of jail facilities could have an impact on home confinement and community corrections programs all over.

However, he still needs to prosecute cases and can’t let overcrowding concerns affect his office.

“I can’t let it affect what I do,” Reger said, “because I don’t think that’s appropriate.”

Reger also said there appears to be a trend in crimes being committed by high school dropouts and students who often miss school. In the current fiscal year, Reger said his office has prosecuted 108 truancy cases. There have been about 400 truancy cases, but not all cases have been prosecuted. He said studies have shown that truant kids are at risk of committing crime or suffering from substance abuse.

“We’ve worked hard to address that issue,” Reger said, adding it is important to work with children at a young age to have a better influence on them for the future.

“If you can get to somebody as a younger person, you have a greater impact,” Reger said.

Reger noted the drug problem has increased everywhere, with people of all ages and backgrounds.

He said marijuana used to be the most commonly used illegal drug, but synthetic drugs and methamphetamines are on the rise.

“It’s a different game, a difficult thing to deal with – and it’s a serious problem,” Reger said, adding that the drug issue is not unique to Upshur County.

In 2012, Reger said there were 91 felony cases and 1,200 misdemeanor cases. Since July, 45 juvenile petitions have been filed. He said there have been 142 felony drug convictions.

Reger said in many cases, crimes that are committed can be traced to drugs and substance abuse.

He pointed out that drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs are better in federally processed cases.

“We need to do a better job in our facilities of providing those types of services,” Reger said.