ANALYSIS: Mayor Steve, HPD and Residents Refuse to Let Huntington Fall

Updated 2 years ago Special to HuntingtonNews.Net, COLUMN by David Williams
ANALYSIS:  Mayor Steve, HPD and Residents Refuse to Let Huntington Fall

A September Day

Last September (2014), I rode around Huntington with Nick Verbitsky, a producer for PBS' Frontline documentary show and owner of Blue Chip Films. Mr. Verbitsky was working on a show for Frontline about Oxycontin and insurance fraud. He had read several of my blogs and articles about Huntington's drug epidemic. Nick interviewed me about what I had written about Huntington and I gave him a tour of the drug areas of Huntington.

I also set the producer up with Mayor Steve Williams and a couple of addicts, who discussed their problems. Mr. Verbitsky was somewhat stunned; though, while he was convinced Huntington did have a problem, he was amazed how well Huntington looked on the surface. He was aware of Huntington's blossoming crime rate and the drug-related murders that had plagued the city in recent years, but Huntington was not what he expected when he drove down from Connecticut to check our city out and work on his documentary.

"I expected to see addicts passed out in the streets and cars all over Huntington with Michigan tags." He was impressed with how well even the drug-ridden neighbors were taken care of and he was impressed at the presence of HPD patrolling the city.

Residents of Huntington are horrified at the presence of a few prostitutes walking down the streets, but, compared to the big cities that Nick was used to up north, our problem looked tame and mild. While Mr. Verbitsky assured me he had a good story and thanked me for my time, he only contacted me one more time and that was to see if I could set him up with an actual Detroit drug dealer for an interview. I am not aware of segment currently in development about Huntington.

The City That Refuses To Surrender

I was thinking about my day with Mr. Verbitsky and it got me pondering about a few things. First, our problem has become so concerning to us because Huntington is a city with many All-American qualities. It has always been a great place to raise a family. Huntington has standards and we refuse to settle for less.

Also, because Huntington is so clean on the surface, it was easy to bury a problem while it festered just beneath the surface. Then, the problem eventually got to the point where it could not be hidden. Shootings were popping up all over the city and it was becoming obvious that our dirty little secret had left Hal Greer Boulevard and was consuming our clean little city. In 2012, then Mayor Wolfe campaigned about how the crime rates were down and that "Huntington was the safest it had been since the 80's." He also campaigned that "it was finally safe to walk the streets of Huntington at night."

On the day that Wolfe was trounced in the election, there was a double murder in which two drug dealers from Detroit were killed. It took a while for the new mayor to begin to fight the problem. I, for one, was nipping at Mayor Steve's heels and even sent him a rough draft of my book "The Streets of Moneyton" which was read over 40,000 times online. Mayor Steve eventually began kicking ass and I will get to that in a moment.

I have also been thinking about the effort that Huntington has put into fighting the drug epidemic over the last year. No war has been won over night and make no mistake about it: we ARE in a war! Huntington has high standards and we are refusing to bow down and hand over our city to Detroit drug dealers. Mayor Steve has emerged as a leader who is leading us in a battle that IS being fought every day regardless of how it looks on the surface to visitors like Mr. Verbitsky. Huntington is refusing to hide our dirty little secret any longer and we refuse to let out of town dealers to continue to kill our sick and addicted with their poison.

Huntington Fights Back

The first part of the cleaning of the streets of Moneyton was implementing Mayor Steve's River To Jail program. The River To Jail program began swiftly on Tuesday August 6, 2014. The Huntington Greyhound Bus station announced that all of the buses back to Detroit were sold out for that Tuesday as Mayor Steve and Huntington Police Chief Jim Johnson sent their men across town rounding up offenders.

One dealer could not get on the buses so he attempted to take a cab back to Detroit but he was apprehended. Police Chief Jim Johnson announced 22 arrests in one day as part of a citywide warrant sweep dubbed Operation River to Jail.

The effort involved participation from more than 50 Huntington Police officers, as well as the Huntington Violent Crime Federal Drug Task Force, Ohio Highway Patrol and the West Virginia Air National Guard.

The sweep netted 25 arrests by the end of the day, seven of which were for misdemeanor crimes.

Three suspects were arrested on federal warrants and 16 were arrested on state warrants.

According to The Herald-Dispatch article "Hit The Road". "Jim Johnson said the police will be relentless in arresting drug and violent crime offenders. He said that was a promise he made to city council when they approved $500,000 in additional funding for the police department that made Tuesday's arrests possible. The same funding will help add 10 officers to the department early next year to continue to address the problem through a longterm plan.

"What today was about was street-level drugs," Jim Johnson said. "This was about what has destroyed the neighborhoods, has caused people not to be able to come out and sit on their front porches."

Standing alongside the mayor and police chief, Cabell County Prosecutor Corky Hammers vowed to prosecute those arrested Tuesday to the fullest extent.

"We intend to be tough on prosecutions," he said. "If the drug dealers didn't get the message today when they were arrested, they will get it in the months to come as we hold their feet to the fire through the court system, and we will make sure these drug dealers spend as much time as possible in prison."

Hammers said he has a small team of prosecutors assembled to handle the cases in particular and make sure his office is able to support the city's plan to address drugs and violent crimes."

The River To Jail program continued to clean the streets of Moneyton. Despite the initial success of raids, Mayor Steve knew it was not going to be enough. Williams said, "We are not going to be able to just arrest ourselves out of this."

The Mayor was absolutely correct. The problem had gone on for too long. The demand was not going to go away because many of the addicted had been on drugs since the pill mills started flooding the area with painkillers. As much as they may want or wanted to quit, they just are not able to do it without help.

There is also belief that once you arrest one dealer and get him off the street that two more replace him from Detroit. There is just too much demand and as long as that demand is present there will be someone there to supply the demand.

It was obvious it was going to take more than just filling up the jails and courts.

According to the August 15, 2014 Herald Dispatch article "Mayor Williams Encourages Prayer" by Kristi Murphy, "Mayor Steve Williams says there is no silver bullet. There is no one way to rid Huntington of drug crime and addiction".

But it was the day the initiative was announced, Aug. 5, that Williams decided enforcement, education, treatment and recovery programs just weren't enough. Something else was needed, and that something was prayer.

"I've been so consumed over the prevalence of drug violence, drug crime and also seeing the level of addiction," he said. "We obviously have to educate people not to do [drugs] to begin with, we have to have effective enforcement and we have to have treatment and recovery programs, but I have seen the power of prayer personally in my life."

Williams reached out to a group of religious leaders and asked them to lead their churches in a prayer for those battling addiction, those working in law enforcement, and lastly, those dealing drugs to give them the strength to walk away.

He filmed a video circulated on social media asking all to join with him in prayer..

"Prayer is so powerful," Williams said. "I can't imagine the power that would be unleashed if every church would take a moment to pray."

The prayer was scheduled in September because that is the National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month."

Mayor Steve's Prayer recorded by Trifecta Productions quickly went viral and was viewed over 500,000 times. He asked the churches to pray for three things:

1. Healing and recovery of those fighting substance abuse,

2. The protection of law enforcement as they protect the community during the drug war, and

3. The drug dealers to be delivered from a life of crime.

Mayor Steve's prayer also brought a phone call and a trip to Huntington by Dog The Bounty Hunter.

Still Fighting But........

The current drug is far from over. There are still dozens of drug dealers from Detroit dealing drugs on the streets of our city. People are still over dosing and dying. People are still being shot in drug-related crimes. Cars are still being broke into and people are still afraid to walk the streets at night. But, we are fighting. Our city: our neighbors, The HPD and Mayor Steve... are fighting together.

I wrote a blog a few weeks ago and in the Facebook thread, Councilman David Ball responded, "Whoever thinks Huntington city government is not taking a proactive stance to the addiction problem in this area needs to refocus. Not are we taking a proactive stance we are being recognized nationally for the programs we have put in place and our goal of treatment vs incarceration. We have passed ordinances to meet this very need. We have established the Office of Drug Control Policy. Jim Johnson just returned from Washigton DC and a meeting with other officials at the White House about the addiction problem and was recognized for Huntington's approach. We have had a series of public meetings involving the public how to get involved. We are combining efforts with HPD, Cabell County, Prestera Center, Recovery Point, Health Dept, clergy and many others to overcome. Get to some of these drug forums and learn what we can do as community to change this scourge."

Conclusion

The problem is far from over. Heroin is not an enemy that will let go of it's prisoners very easy. Detroit drug dealers are not going to give up the lure of easy money either. The city is coming together working on both the supply and the demand.

Heroin is getting harder to find but it is still out there. People are still dying but not as fight. Good people like Rocky Meadows and Life House, Prestera, The Healing Place, Her Place, and others are fighting the good fight. We need to keep fighting, to keep saving one life at a time, and to keep believing that Huntington is an All-American City. We need to believe in ourselves and our neighbors......Fight on, Huntington and may God Bless You.

Special to HNN, by David Williamson

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