Diagnosis of local crime

As an orthopedic surgeon, I spent many years in training, learning to diagnosis problems, and then formulating a plan to repair and fix that problem. That training can be applied to areas outside the human body, hence the subject of this article. Randolph County and Elkins have become plagued with an illness worse than cancer. That illness is drug addiction and associated crime. The National Center for Health Statistics found West Virginia to rank No. 1 in 2016 with 52 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 population. We were No. 1 in 2015 with a rate of 41.5 per 100,000. Many people suffering from substance abuse at some point reach a level of desperation where the only way to feed their habit is to commit crimes, most often some kind of theft.

My family and I moved to Elkins in the summer of 1996 from Charlottesville, Virginia. One of our reasons in choosing Randolph County West Virginia was the safe community in which to raise our children. I often described Elkins as being like Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, old fashioned and good. Native Elkins citizens often made fun of my wife and me for locking our house and car doors. Unfortunately, most people lock theirs now as well. Mayberry is under siege.

Over the last several years, my family and business have been victims of break-ins, embezzlement, and, most recently, the theft of a four-wheeler from our driveway. For whatever reason, this theft was the straw that broke this camel’s back. In working with law enforcement, it has become clear to me that their resources are stretched too thin to devote time and effort into solving such “minor crimes.” Wilson and Kelling described in 1982 the broken windows theory. It linked disorder, such as leaving broken windows unrepaired or incivility, to an increase in more serious crimes. One can extrapolate that if most local crimes of theft and burglary go unsolved and unpunished, more violent acts are sure to follow. In the last several weeks, I have spoken to over 100 local citizens. Most of them described themselves or a direct relation being victimized by some type of property crime. Unfortunately, at the same time, not a single one told me that crime had been solved. This included victims that had caught perpetrators on camera or identified the guilty person by other means.

My diagnosis suggests that we need to apply new ideas to Elkins or risk following the path of Huntington. It currently ranks as one of the highest murder per capita rates in the country. I have tried to come up with some ways to help fix that problem.. One of the simplest would be to implement more formal neighborhood watch programs. This would require educating the community on what activities to watch for and how to respond. This would be an easy and free start to improving our situation. Police departments could have one or two law enforcement officers assigned designated time to work these crimes without interruption. Unfortunately, when these officers are being asked to respond to calls it is hard for them to maintain the concentration and needed effort to solve what some consider minor crimes. Another idea would be to implement “volunteer” detectives. Our state has more veterans than any state per capita. People with military or law enforcement backgrounds would be a logical first choice to help. I am sure there would be other volunteers such as myself willing to help in any way. These volunteers could perform much of the back work. This could include tracking down leads with computer analysis by using Facebook and other social media and tracking sales for possible stolen goods. Once criminals are found guilty and prosecuted successfully, they should be given meaningful punishment. Certainly, many people can be rehabilitated but there are those that cannot. More serious intervention, such as implementing the third time loser rule, would possibly defer others from making the same mistake.

Elkins and the surrounding communities have great assets, and every citizen should be proud of their community. We have beautiful natural settings which tourists travel long distances to see. We are blessed with natural resource riches that can provide jobs and income. We have some of the finest citizens in the country. These salt of the earth citizens, if given guidance, can reverse the sad turn we have seen happen over the last several years. It is a blessing to feel safe for oneself and family. I believe most people would be strongly in favor of whatever steps were necessary to return our community to a safer time.