Officials discussing task force creation

BUCKHANNON – Officials hope to meet soon to discuss forming a multi-jurisdictional drug and violent crime task force.

So far, area law enforcement officials have only had informal conversations about the idea. But Buckhannon City Attorney David McCauley said U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld recently contacted him to request help identifying the appropriate individuals to invite to a formal meeting.

McCauley said he spoke with Buckhannon Police Chief Matt Gregory and the two came up with a list of 13 area officials. The list includes prosecuting attorneys and law enforcement officials from Upshur and Lewis counties.

“If we get everyone to sit down, it would be the first formalized meeting in the establishment of this effort. It would be a brainstorming meeting to try to get organized and talk about a lot of things, logistically speaking, that need to occur,” Gregory said.

There appears to be great interest in both Upshur and Lewis County in forming a task force, McCauley said.

“I attempted several times to reach out to my law enforcement contact in Philippi, but unfortunately my calls were not returned. Perhaps at some point in the future, the task force here might be expanded to include other agencies, including the Philippi-Barbour County area,” McCauley wrote in a letter to Ihlenfeld.

Gregory said he believes the area needs a multi-agency task force and is pleased that a formal meeting is in the works.

“I think it’s forward progress. Certainly we have our fair share of issues in the Buckhannon-Upshur community and in surrounding areas as well. Drug issues many times don’t know boundaries and we shouldn’t either,” he said.

Lewis County Sheriff Adam Gissy said he is open to the concept of forming a multi-county task force. He believes it’s a good idea. But he has concerns over manpower in his

department.

“I think the concept alone is a brilliant idea. U.S. Attorney Ihlenfeld is spot on. I really want to work with him. As far as personnel matters, I don’t have a lot to devote outside of Lewis County,” he said.

Gissy said he believes it’s important for area law enforcement agencies to share information. But he said the lack of an officer to devote full-time to a task force likely would prohibit him from participating. If grant funding became available to hire another officer, it would make the possibility of participating much greater, he said.

Law enforcement agencies in Upshur and Lewis counties have a good working relationship, Gregory said. It would be beneficial to everyone to have a formal collaborative effort, he said.

“A lot of the things we deal with in town are the same things the sheriff’s department deals with and Lewis County as well. We share a lot of problems. We’ve always collaborated and showed a willingness to work together,” he said.

There are several multi-jurisdictional task forces in the surrounding area. These established entities would be a valuable source of insight, Gregory said.

“Certainly we would anticipate collaborating with them as well and look to them for advice and assistance to get things started,” he said.

Gregory said he has little doubt that a multi-agency task force would result in more drug arrests in both Upshur and Lewis counties. The state’s effort to create specialized drug courts would be a good companion to any collaborative law enforcement effort, he said.

“When you talk about the increased number of arrests, having that infrastructure coming down the pike would be a benefit as well,” he said.