PARKERSBURG - A group of investigators from several agencies has decided to come together out of concern for Wood County.
From that concern a new crime unit, the Aggressive Crime Enforcement Task Force, was formed initially to help local law enforcement agencies get a grip on the bath salts problem plaguing the Mid-Ohio Valley.
The task force is not a drug unit like the Parkersburg Narcotic Task Force but rather an aggressive approach to the crime in the area, police said.
Parkersburg police Sgt. Greg Collins said he and Capt. Rick Woodyard with the Wood County Sheriff's Office found themselves frustrated with the crimes taking place in the county. They decided to go to their superiors about the problem and came up with a simple solution - a crime unit focusing on quick, aggressive solutions to solving the criminal activity in the Mid-Ohio Valley.
"What made us unique is we all had the same desire to make a difference," Collins said. "We were all sick of what was happening to this community.
"We work our normal shifts and work assignments, and come out in the evenings and go after the worst problems plaguing our neighborhoods," he said.
* Local officers, deputies and state police agencies are teaming up to address criminal activity in Parkersburg and Wood County.
The citizens in some parts of the city and county had been suffering at the hands of some of these problem houses or areas and were thrilled because they saw their quality of life restored, Collins said.
Initially the group was established to control the bath salts epidemic, but quickly changed to target any criminal activity in the area. Investigators soon discovered they were uncovering a lot of other crimes and identifying criminal activity through interviews with the people they were targeting. Local law enforcement agencies including the West Virginia State Police were part of the team effort.
"We had a group of people we suspected of being involved in bath salt distribution," said Chief Deputy Shawn Graham with the Wood County Sheriff's Office. "Through cooperative efforts we started solving a lot of (cases)."
Graham said Sheriff Ken Merritt, Parkersburg police Chief Joe Martin, Vienna police Chief George Young and Wood County Prosecutor Jason Wharton were glad to be in on forming a proper memorandum of understanding and doing the paperwork to label the crime task force.
The memorandum gives Vienna and Parkersburg city police authority in the county, Graham said.
With the Parkersburg Narcotics Task Force fully staffed and concentrating solely on getting rid of the drug problem in the county, investigators determined the new crime unit would not only coincide with them but also deal more with solving problems quickly by disbanding criminals through any means to get them arrested and talking.
"Solving the problem by arresting, writing tickets, towing cars, whatever it took to shut down a problem and encourage people to disband and move on to another location," Collins said. "We knew we didn't need another drug unit and that there were a lot of other problems that needed addressed besides drugs."
Graham said the arrests so far have included the demise of a local bath salt distribution ring namely referred to by investigators as the Philpott bath salt organization. The leader of that drug ring was Alan Philpott and he led investigators to making other arrests and subsequently eliminating almost all use of bath salts in the area.
"The confirmation that we had accomplished a huge feat came when numerous bath salt addicts began to tell us that we had effectively crippled the bath salt supply in the valley," Collins said. "Whether it was in the city or out in the county, it made no difference."
The involvement from the officers, detectives, investigators and inspectors with this unit cannot be stressed enough, Collins said. The people in the unit are working a regular shift job during the day and returning to make these arrests and continue investigations at night.
"The sacrifice of spending so much time away from home cannot be understated," he said. "The dedication to the cause by each investigator made it special - without questions."
At this time, the crime unit includes investigators with the Parkersburg Police Department, Wood County Sheriff's Office, West Virginia State Police, Vienna Police Department, Washington County Major Crimes Task Force, U.S. Postal Inspectors and the FBI.
Collins said the unit also gets support from the Belpre Police Department, Williamstown Police Department and West Virginia Natural Resources Police, among others, when needed.