Drug abuse is something "you don't think anything about, you don't do anything about, until it's personal," local business owner Bobby Hutton told his peers over pizza Tuesday afternoon.
And for Hutton, it's personal.
Hutton's stepson died from a drug overdose. Hutton is a member of the Randolph County branch of America's Promise Coalition - an offshoot committee of the Randolph County Family Resource Network that's dedicated to tackling drug use and abuse in the area.
The group met Tuesday to discuss the possibility of forming a drug task force in Randolph County.
Hutton was one of several concerned citizens among the mix of governmental officials, local law enforcement leaders, business owners and landlords who turned out to talk to two officers with the Harrison County Drug Task Force about how to form a Randolph County Drug Task Force.
The officers cannot be identified because of their involvement undercover work; however, the Harrison County Drug Task Force is a special seven-member unit made of officers from the Bridgeport Police Department, Clarksburg Police Department and the Harrison County Sheriff's Department that specializes in investigating drug cases.
Hutton told the officers he thinks it is "time to take our town back over."
"It's time for it (drug sales and abuse) to stop, and the only way to stop it is to get started stopping it," he said.
The two officers gave attendees advice about how they could start stopping drug abuse, touching on topics from how to cobble together funding for a drug task force to what type of officers would be the best candidates to serve on the task force. They even volunteered to train one to three officers from the Randolph County Sheriff's Department and/or the Elkins Police Department.
The officers recommended developing a memorandum of understanding between the task force and each department that would guide day-to-day operations; drafting a handbook that would outline procedures, for example, how to handle confidential informants; and forming a control board.
A newly formed drug task force would cost less than $10,000 to start up - minus officers' salaries, one of the officers said. Money to fund the task force would have to come from local sources, since the task force wouldn't be eligible for grant funding until it has operated for at least a year.
"Two questions to keep in mind when making funding decisions (are): 'What percentage of crimes are attributable to drugs?' and 'What percentage of time or money are you dedicating to fighting it?'" one of the officers said.
As far as manpower, he suggested the county aim for three to four officers when initially staffing the force.
"One is too dangerous, and two is a lot like having one," he said. "Three is comfortable, and if you had four, you could be investigating two cases at one time."
The officer said harnessing manpower would probably be the county's biggest challenge, although not a unique one.
Law enforcement units statewide are having difficulty recruiting viable candidates dedicated to police work, he said.
One of the keys to a successful drug task force is to ensure the county's prosecutor is on board with the task force's mission, the officer added.
"You have to have a prosecutor who's willing to prosecute, or it's just like pushing a rope up a tree," he said.
Randolph County Prosecuting Attorney Michael Parker attended Tuesday's meeting and assured the group he would be willing to work with a drug task force.
"I think people here know my record," Parker said. "I ran on this."
Following the gathering, Elkins Mayor Duke Talbott said he was pleased with the meeting's results.
"I was impressed with the amount of information we were able to get," Talbott said.
"I thought we had a great discussion."
The Harrison County Drug Task Force officers and America's Promise Coalition will reconvene at the APC's November meeting to continue working on plans to get the task force off the ground.
FRN Director Rebecca Vance said she hopes that meeting will be well-attended, especially by key players, such as sheriff's department representatives.
"It's an issue that touches everyone in a different way," she said.
Contact Katie Kuba by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.