WSAZ | Charleston, West Virginia | News

UPDATE: Charleston Drug Market Intervention Program Gets Financial Boost

By: Cathleen Moxley, Brooks Jarosz, Sarah Sager Email
By: Cathleen Moxley, Brooks Jarosz, Sarah Sager Email

UPDATE: 823/12 @ 6:25 PM
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A community known for drugs and violence is getting a financial boost to help stop the crime.

A new grant will help fund a six-month-old program that's already seeing positive results.

The Drug Market Intervention program started in an eight block by eight block area of Charleston’s west side in February.

The goal was to get violent offenders off the streets and into prison, while giving non-violent offenders a second chance.

Intervention meetings allowed neighbors to speak with them face to face.

“They saw the names. They came and said this is ridiculous. You were raised better than this. You can do better than this,” Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster said.

So far, the results have been positive.

“One in particular has really turned it around,” Webster said. “He's gotten a job, he's maintained a job but he also speaks with enthusiasm about the job.”

As for the violent offenders, they have either been sentenced or are in that process.

The program is still young, but a $475,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice could now take it to another level.

Organizers are still on the fence about how that money should be used.

It could enhance the area already included. However, organizers say it will more than likely expand to other streets on the west side -- giving even more neighbors a better sense of safety.

“We want them to feel good, and we want them to be able to say "I do feel safe," or "I do think it's improving,’” Webster said.

Webster says two of the seven shootings in Charleston this year have been in that targeted area, which is an improvement from years past.

Police are in the process of compiling more numbers to see how much crime has gone down in that area.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- A new project is being launched on Charleston’s West Side to make the community safer. It’s called the Drug Market Intervention.

It covers every street and alley from Delaware to Florida and from Grant to Washington Street West. The program’s creators say that is the center of drug-related crimes in the city.

“The West Side is really getting bad,” a West Side resident said. “There needs to be something done about it.”

“I see it every night. You see the drug deals,” John Griffiths, who often works on the West Side said.

Those who spend a lot of time in the area know it can be dangerous.

“We can't have sustainable economic development unless people feel safe,” U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said.

Goodwin is working with police and prosecutors to turn things around.

“People don't want to be prisoners in their own homes,” Goodwin said. “People don't want crime running ramped on their streets.”

They're starting a Drug Market Intervention. Those who deserve to be in jail will stay there, but non-violent offenders who deserve a second chance will get it.

They're offering to help them find jobs, homes and services that will get them back on track. That's where residents comes into focus.

“They have to come out and they have to be involved in the solution. We can't do it on our own,” Goodwin said.

They want residents to meet with the offenders and show their support. In return, it could mean less crime in their community.

“That's a good idea right there,” West Side resident Paul Gravely said. “The ones that need help, they can help them. The ones that don't need help need to be put in jail and see what it's like to be put in jail.”

While some are on board with the plan, others are a little more skeptical.

“I think you might be able to save one or two people out here, but their peer pressure is pretty tough. They don't listen to much, and to educate somebody isn't likely to happen,” Griffiths said.

The spotlight is on a group that investigators call the most violent offenders on the city's West Side.

Officials are zeroing in on the ring leaders supplying drugs, weapons and violence, wreaking years of havoc on that part of the city for years.

Federal prosecutors already have brought charges against them, and they have been taken off the streets. Some of the names may look familiar since they've been in and out of trouble several times over the years.

Nine are mentioned on the initial "A-list" said to be involved in criminal activity including Jonathan Cavender, Trey Davis, Marvin Garrett, Michael Robertson, Darlene Smith, Leon Antonio Smith and Fred Taylor.

"They're committing a lot of crime," Police Chief Brent Webster said. "A lot of violent crime, a lot of drug crime and they've got records."

Of those targeted for the intervention program, several have long and lengthy records that span outside of the Capital City.

Marvin Garrett was charged in a violent home invasion in South Charleston and, more recently, possession of drugs and guns.

Police say Trey Davis is a violent criminal who was involved in shootings in Charleston and Huntington. Court records show he has been caught with drugs time and time again.

"You've got those people who are the frequent flyers," Kanawha County Prosecutor Mark Plants said. "They're always committing crimes."

Now, they're detained by the feds and considered dangerous. As for those on the B-List, they are people who officials say live in the community and made bad choices.

"They want to have a good honest-paying job once they're clean and if we get them clean and we get them a decent job, I think that in the end is going to be a good way of reducing crime," Plants said.

Crime on that part of town is easy to see following a shooting Monday night along 4th Avenue. Police say it reinforces the point that there's still work to be done there.

"We want to improve the quality of life over here," Webster said. "That's really what this is about."

In short, it's an aggressive approach to help take care of the worst of the worse while giving others a second chance.

Federal prosecutors say the A-list is not limited to the nine they have cases against. They're working on a second round of criminals to add to that A-list.

The B-list people's names are not being released since they'll get a second chance to make a difference in the community.

The Drug Market Intervention initiative was first put into place in Huntington in October of 2010. In a year, it saw a lot of success. Now, federal and city leaders in Charleston hope to translate DMI’s success to a troubled area nearly 50 miles east.

“Both areas (Huntington and Charleston) have out-of-town drug dealers that have come into town and plagued our streets,” Webster said.

In Huntington, the focus was on a four-square-block area, with the 1900 block of 9th Avenue the epicenter of the problem. In Charleston, it's an eight block by eight-block area on the West Side.

"That's a bigger area than where Huntington focused on. Statistically, we couldn't find an area quite as specific or as targeted as Fairfield," Webster said.

Goodwin tells there’s a reason the initiative began in Huntington.

“There was more crime there. They were also seeing a lot more influx of folks from out of state," he said.

The results in Huntington were almost immediate. Goodwin says the Fairfield area saw a 60 percent drop in violent crime, a 50 percent drop in drugs and a 40 percent drop in other crimes all together.

He also says this isn't your typical law enforcement philosophy.

"Law enforcement officers are used to prosecuting the bad guys, putting them in jail and throwing away the key," Goodwin said.

However, this intervention gets the community involved and invested.

“I think this is the only way to fight crime. You have to have community engagement," Goodwin said.

Huntington Police Chief Skip Holbrook says six "B-List" criminals in Huntington were given a second chance. Four took it and haven't been a problem since. He told DMI is a strategy to fight crime he plans to use again in the future.

Several "B-List" criminals in Charleston will be called in later in the week.

The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday, March 1. It will be at New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church along 1st Avenue.

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