Michael A. Sawyers
WESTERNPORT — Allegany County Sheriff Craig Robertson told a standing-room-only crowd of Westernport residents Thursday that their frustration about drug activity in the community is understandable and their continued cooperation is necessary to combat the issue.
Because Piedmont, W.Va., is a matter of footsteps across the North Branch of the Potomac River bridge, Robertson was accompanied by Mineral County Sheriff Jeremy Taylor in the crowded council chambers at Westernport Town Hall.
Also answering questions were Robertson’s employees Lt. Warren Carter and Deputy Israel Sibley along with Allegany County Assistant State’s Attorney Sam Lane.
“We are having a tough time up here now,” said Westernport Mayor Dan Laffey. “We have a drug problem in Westernport.”
Resident after resident agreed. Audience members were not required to identify themselves when speaking.
Within two weeks, Laffey said, surveillance cameras will be installed at what is the consensus drug hot spot in Westernport — Maryland Avenue.
Residents requested a greater police presence in the town, but Robertson and Lane explained that successful arrests, convictions and incarcerations more often are the result of plodding investigative work that begins with citizen tips and lines up strong evidence and testimony.
“Keep calling us with details,” said Sibley of the sheriff’s office Narcotics Unit. “We may make a buy, but we only know the seller by his street name. It may take me a while to find out his real name.”
“If you get a license plate number to Deputy Sibley, that may be the piece of information that allows us to obtain a search warrant,” Lane added.
Real drug investigations and arrests are not like the half-hour TV show during which a whole cartel is brought down, including the killing of 15 bad guys and the arrest of another 45, according to Robertson.
The desire for a more immediate resolution, though, was evident among the citizens who said they often find heroin needles near a playground and ballfields that are frequented by their children.
Lane pointed out that four people had been arrested on drug charges on Maryland Avenue. One was convicted of possessing marijuana, but not of having more serious drugs. One was found not guilty. One, a woman out on bail, was shot in Baltimore, but will face trial once she recovers. The fourth will have a trial next week, according to Lane.
“When you see an $80,000 Cadillac with New York tags take bags into a welfare house it’s a no-brainer about what’s going on,” said one resident.
Lane agreed and said that’s the kind of information authorities need to get started on a case.
Robertson said drug dealers and users are a mix of local people and those from outside the area. He specifically mentioned Philadelphia and Baltimore. “They can rent a house cheaply here and sell the drugs for three or four times the amount they get in the city,” he said.
“If this area is so poor, how do people afford to buy drugs?” a woman asked.
“They steal the copper out of your house,” Robertson answered. “It’s a vicious circle.”
The sheriff agreed with one resident who said it is a matter of time before a shooting takes place within the drug-using, drug-selling fraternity. Robertson said, too, that the removal of five to 10 appropriate individuals would likely stop Westernport’s drug problem, but he believes other criminals would then move in to fill the void.
Robertson and Sibley said they don’t see a lot of cases where suspects are hopping back and forth across the state line to avoid detection.
Taylor, though, said he believes there are more incidents of people coming from Maryland into Mineral County for illicit purposes than vice versa.
“They know that after midnight the sheriff’s department is the only enforcement agency staffed in Mineral County,” Taylor said. “One spot you see a lot of movement at those hours is from South Cumberland over to Wiley Ford.”
Lane said most individuals at the top of the drug distribution chain are in their 30s or 40s and that the street merchants are often 19 to 21.
Contact Michael A. Sawyers at firstname.lastname@example.org.