Martinsburg Drug House Ordinance Proves a “Game Changer” for Community

  • Martinsburg Drug House Ordinance Proves a “Game Changer” for Community

    Martinsburg Drug House Ordinance Proves a “Game Changer” for Community

    The Martinsburg Police Department announced today the continued dramatic results and positive impact of the City’s innovative Drug House Ordinance. Since its enactment in April, 2016 the ordinance has been utilized 59 times with significant results in drug enforcement, cleaning up city neighborhoods, improving the quality of life for decent families, and maximizing police resources.

    MPD Chief Maury Richards and Deputy Chief George Swartwood submitted a “3rd Year Update and Assessment” to Martinsburg’s Mayor, City Council, and City Manager which was presented at the November 14th City Council Meeting. The two MPD leaders recognized that with more than half of Martinsburg’s 8,119 residential housing units being rental units, the police has been presented a difficult task to curb the sale of illegal drugs. The Drug House Ordinance is uniquely designed to meet the challenge. Nine other West Virginia cities have adopted drug house ordinances based on Martinsburg’s success.

    Chief Richards describes the three-year results of Drug House Ordinance enforcement as “absolutely amazing.” “We always knew that the Ordinance eliminated illegal drug activity and reduced repeat calls-for-service at the problem locations by 90%—which was great just in itself,” the Martinsburg Chief stated. “But now that we’ve seen the huge impact Drug House enforcement has had on reducing crime and illegal drug activity on the entire block, it’s clear that the Ordinance is an absolute game changer for the entire Martinsburg community,” Richards added.

    MPD analyzed reported crime, drug, and disorder incidents on each of the 59 blocks where the former drug houses are located. Comparing 12 months before enforcement action with the numbers of same types of incidents 12 months after compliance—the drug house results are staggering. The total of all locations shows a 51% decline in Violent Crime, reduced from 501 incidents to 247; a 35% drop in Property Crimes, down 583 to 379; a 52% decrease in Drug-related calls, from 262 to 127; a 34% reduction in Public Nuisance complaints, down from 182 to 120; and a 54% reduction in Drug Overdoses, cut from 59 to 27.

    Commenting on the dramatic reduction in crime, drugs, and overdoses, Deputy Chief George Swartwood stated, “The Drug House Ordinance works. It has not only reduced crime, it is saving lives.” “When you walk around town, you can just see the change for the better,” added Swartwood. “This has empowered citizens to step up and help solve problems in their own neighborhoods. The level of community cooperation and support can only be described as outstanding.”

    Cleaning up the 59 drug house locations has usually started with an in-depth police investigation and aggressive follow-up enforcement action. This police work has resulted in 80 felony and nine misdemeanor arrests and the recovery of 341 grams of heroin, 234 grams of crack cocaine, 1,397 grams of powder cocaine, 6 grams of fentanyl, 91 grams of methamphetamine, 1,765 grams of marijuana and marijuana wax, 40 grams of bath salts and quantities of illegally possessed prescription opioids. The estimated street value of the illegal drugs totaled $464,875. Drug house-related police seizures have included $22,385 in suspect drug-money, nine illegal firearms, and three vehicles.

    Police operations have been a team effort with 40 drug search warrants being executed—26 by the Martinsburg Police Department, 13 by the Eastern Panhandle Drug and Violent Crime Task Force and one by the West Virginia State Police. Richards and Swartwood recognized the strong support of MPD’s innovative enforcement efforts by United States Attorney William Powell. “Bill Powell is providing great leadership to all law enforcement in the Eastern Panhandle. His support and our partnership with our Task Force have helped take our Drug House enforcement to a new level,” Chief Richards stated.

    Deputy Chief Swartwood recognized the cooperation of most Martinsburg landlords in making the Drug House Ordinance a continued success. “After the violations, we’ve seen 100% compliance from all landlords or property owners. said Swartwood.

    However, while most landlords in the City have been responsible and more have become more proactive in monitoring their properties and calling the police to report illegal activity, repeat Drug House violators have remained a serious problem. Ten landlords have accounted for 28 of the 59 Drug House violations. In their report, Richards and Swartwood recommended that the penalty provisions for repeat violators be enhanced to give the ordinance “more teeth” in deterring and punishing repeat offenders. At the November 14th Meeting, the City Council voted to approve increasing the fines for repeat violators. If adopted after a third reading at the December Meeting, violators of the ordinance will be fined $250 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for each subsequent offense.  Violators will be given a reprieve from an enhanced fine if they have not had a second violation within 12 months of the first one.