• Outer Banks officers cleaning up drug ridden communities

    By: JEFF HAMPTON, The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk, Virginia

    Updated:
    WANCHESE, N.C. (AP) - Kamala Warren said she realized about five years ago her hometown was not the same place it was during her childhood.

    The small fishing village had a growing criminal presence related to heroin use. Her daughter found a hypodermic needle on the ground while she was horseback riding on Old Schoolhouse Road. People witnessed drug deals in the open, including near a day care center. Certain rental houses were known to be places to buy illegal substances. One deteriorating mobile home had no running water or electricity, but people lived there and dealt drugs.

    "You could feel and see the difference," Warren said. "I was angry. It was time to do something."

    The mother of four called the Dare County Sheriff's Office and helped set up a community meeting in October 2013. More than 100 people showed up in the town of about 1,600.

    From that meeting the Sheriff's Office formed the "impact team," said Sgt. Donovan "Buddy" Ruth, who heads to the group. Just a few years later, they say it's been a success. Arrests in heroin cases have fallen. Dealers have left town. And some of the addicts who got help have remained clean.

    Back in 2013, Ruth and two other deputies started by concentrating their efforts in Wanchese. The village is more vulnerable to drug trade than many places, he said. Fishing boats take their hauls to large cities along the East coast. Drugs sometimes follow them back home. Young men leaving for the first time on the fishing rigs get exposed to bad elements. One fishing boat captain became hooked on heroin, nearly ruining his life before he recovered, he said.

    "I've dealt with a lot of boat captains," Ruth said.

    Ruth and his officers patrolled the narrow roads 12 hours a day through rows of modest houses with boats and crab pots in the yard. They spent evenings watching from unmarked cars seized in earlier drug operations. Supper was often a large pizza delivered to the vehicle.

    Addicts short on money let dealers use their houses to sell their product, Ruth said. In return, the dealers provided free drugs. In one case the officers raided a home, but not before the dealer flushed the evidence down the toilet. Determined to get a conviction, they lifted the concrete top of the septic tank and used a fish net to scoop the drugs from the muck, he said.

    In the first year, the team made 60 arrests, half on heroin charges. The next year, the cases fell to 35, with 15 heroin arrests. Since then, arrests have fallen to under 10 a year. Most of the dealers left town, Ruth said.

    Ruth took it a step further. He met with young addicts and families at their kitchen tables. They worked closely with probation officers and others. Warren has many acquaintances who cleaned up their lives, she said. Thirty people were sent to rehabilitation services, but only four, maybe five, have remained clean, Ruth said.

    New police initiatives don't always work so well. But this team on the Outer Banks, concentrating on a small community, has proven successful, said Capt. Kevin Duprey of the Sheriff's Office.

    "They have the flexibility to dedicate time to one problem until that problem is solved," he said.

    The latest area is an affordable housing apartment complex in Manteo known as Harbourtowne, Ruth said.

    People there have reported drug deals, theft and needles lying on the ground. The impact team began this month to knock on doors, talk with addicts and search for dealers with the hopes of a turnaround similar to that in Wanchese, he said.

    The team has also joined patrol officers to curb people stealing from beach homes in Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo. It is a chronic problem in the isolated communities of Hatteras Island while the homes are empty in the off-season. Televisions are a favorite target.

    Police received reports of 40 to 50 break-ins there in past winters and most went unsolved. In 2016, the impact team concentrated on the crimes and made arrests in 15 of 20 instances, Ruth said. In one case, four people were arrested after officers found 26 stolen televisions. That led to fewer crimes the next year when there were only five home break-ins, said Sheriff Doug Doughtie.

    "They do an awesome job," he said.

    Meanwhile, work in Wanchese continues, Ruth said. Last year, a woman living in a weathered house on The Lane died of an overdose. Greg Wynn faces a second-degree murder charge in connection to her death. The team continues to monitor the mobile home without plumbing or electricity. Warren's daughter found another needle in a roadside ditch just last week. Warren plans to keep reporting problems to Ruth and the impact team, she said.

    "He's never let me down," she said. "I'm happy."

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    Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com

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