UPDATE 1/23/12 @ 9:30 p.m.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said he came to Huntington City Council “bearing good news,” and he had the statistics to back that up.
Goodwin, the U.S. Attorney for the southern district of West Virginia, attended Monday’s meeting to share the positive results of the Huntington Weed and Seed program in the city’s Fairfield East and West communities. The Weed and Seed program is a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to help fight crime in what statistically has been Huntington’s top spot for violent crime.
“I want to congratulate the city of Huntington, especially its police department, for their exemplary efforts in the Fairfield area,” Goodwin said, adding city leaders “should be very, very, proud” of the results.
According to statistics, those results include:
“It is a collaborative community-problem solving model that should be replicated everywhere,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin said the success of the program has generated interest from law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
Councilwoman Sandra Clements, who represents the Fairfield District and was recognized by Goodwin for her efforts with the Weed and Seed program, thanked Goodwin for his participation.
“The community feels you care about us, and I thank you for that,” she said.
Although the target Weed and Seed area has only about 20 percent of the city’s population, statistics show it had 60 percent of the city’s murders, 77 percent of prostitution arrests, 44 percent of arrests for adult drug crimes and 38.5 percent of arrests for juvenile drug crimes.
Those statistics were gathered before the Weed and Seed program started in October 2008. The five-year program goes through September 2013.
The latest statistics show drug crimes are down and community confidence is up.
"It’s a matter of taking away the negative influences from our children,” said Bob Martin, director of the A.D. Lewis Community Center in Huntington.
Martin is working in the center of a battleground where drug activity and fear typically run high. It’s why the community was chosen as a targeted area for Weed and Seed. It’s a federal grant program to stamp out drugs and implement positive alternatives. In its second year, Martin is seeing the difference.
"The level of drug activity is definitely going down and the amount of traffic on the street in general is much better and that sends a positive message," Martin said.
It’s a message backed up by the numbers. In the second year alone, the number of drug offenses fell 15 percent. That’s in addition to the nearly 30 percent drop last year. Cases prosecuted are on the rise.
We are feeling very good that our targeted drug enforcement is working and sending out the message that we won’t tolerate this type of behavior," Huntington Police Chief Skip Holbrook said.
Cabell County Prosecutor Chris Chiles said, "We can be successful in prosecuting the cases without the police and without the community.
But, just as important as the weeding, there's the seeding of more positive programs into the community. Highlights include community gardening, nutrition, a neighborhood watch, tutoring and a homebuyer’s class. Martin says all of that working together has left a positive impact on the community.
"People are really feeling safer as they go out in the community and seeing a lot of the activity gone is a big boost to their level of security," Martin said.
Surveys of the community show residents still consider drugs a problem, but not by as high of a margin as they did two years ago. They're also less concerned about violent crimes.