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Galax has experienced marked increases in reported crimes since 2008, including a 17 percent increase in “Part A” crimes — property crimes, crimes of violence, gambling, prostitution, extortion and narcotics, Galax Police Chief Rick Clark told city council during his annual report on March 14.
“Part B” crimes — crimes that are generally considered nuisance crimes or quality of life issues — were down by 13 percent.
“We continue to believe that the crime is being driven by drug abuse,” said Clark. “In a 12-month period ending in 2010, members of the police department were involved in the arrest and federal prosecution of 10 individuals who, by their own admission, were responsible for the distribution of 367 pounds of meth in the City of Galax and Grayson County.”
Clark said that amount conservatively amounts to over $16 million in street value.
The police department has observed a measurable increase in the availability of diverted prescription drugs, as indicated by an increase in arrests and investigation of the sale of prescription narcotics.
Clark said many of the people who were arrested for a serious crime said they were motivated to obtain money for drugs or they were under the influence at the time of the offense.
Highly visible and aggressive uniform patrol of city streets is an important function of the police department, said Clark. In 2010, the police department issued 2,218 traffic summons.
The department participated in Click It or Ticket and Checkpoint Strikeforce programs in January, May, July and November. The campaigns were funded by a Virginia Highway Safety grant.
The majority of traffic summons (35 percent) were issued for offenses related to vehicle registration and inspection and license issues (17 percent). Nearly 390 tickets were related to drivers not having a license or driving with a suspended license.
The department investigated 192 reportable automobile accidents, and 59 accidents were on private property.
In January 2010, the police department followed a Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles mandate and began reporting traffic accidents directly to DMV online. Because of this, the department lost the ability to track accidents by specific locations, which was routinely used data.
The loss of that statistical information affected officers' ability to target problem areas. The department is working to restore that capability with software it already owns.
Clark said officers don't write tickets to make money for the city. “As a department, we have not considered traffic enforcement as a revenue tool, but rather an effort to make this a safer city in which to drive a vehicle. As a department, we strive to maintain a high profile and believe if traffic violations decrease that our efforts are successful.”
Clark said the department has faced new challenges during these economic times.
“As I start my 10th year as chief of the Galax Police Department, I am grateful for the opportunity to lead the department...,” said Clark. “It is an honor to be part of the Galax police family. I am confident in their abilities and willingness to make this a safer city all day every day.”
The police department also houses the Twin County E-911 dispatch center, which is the public safety answering point for the city and Carroll and Grayson counties. If someone dials 911 in the Twin County area, the call comes into the police department, where it is answered by one of 12 dispatchers.
The center is staffed at all times by three dispatchers every day of the year. Those dispatchers direct police, fire and rescue calls, and handle general information calls for assistance.
Last year, those dispatchers recorded 43,236 calls for service — 1,396 for fire; 9,135 for rescue; 15,965 for Galax police; and 8,790 calls transferred to Carroll and Grayson sheriff's offices or the Virginia State Police. In addition to the calls that were recorded, the dispatchers answered citizen inquiries.
The communication center had a 6.6 percent increase last year, compared to 40,380 calls in 2009.
“It is difficult to describe how important the communications staff is to the citizens and first responders,” said Clark. “Almost everything we do as an agency starts in dispatch and revolves around these men and women. They constantly deal with people who are in distress and need immediate attention in what is sometimes a chaotic environment. It should be recognized that they are the unofficial information of all city services, answering questions concerning non-public safety issues that would include 'what time are the fireworks?' to 'is my garbage going to get picked up today?'”
There are 15 men and one woman assigned to uniform patrol. One officer is assigned to Galax schools as a resource officer, and another officer is assigned to code enforcement, transportation and court security.
Three officers are assigned to criminal investigations under the supervision of a sergeant.
Each patrol shift is led by a sergeant and consists of three uniform police officers.
Among the department's accomplishments, the department's entry in National Night Out finished 10th nationwide among localities similar in size. Galax was one of four Virginia localities to finish in the top ten nationally. The police department's efforts were funded by donations made by the community.
Officer accomplishments include:
• Officer Larry Doby announced that he will retire June 1, after he celebrates 25 years of service with the Galax Police Department.
• Officer Drew Burnett began his career with the department in September 2010. He was recognized as “Co-Police Officer of the Year” by the Galax Elks Lodge after pulling someone to safety during a flood.
• Sgt. Jody Poole was promoted to sergeant last year. He is an academy-level instructor and is recognized on a statewide basis as an active shooter trainer. He was recently selected to attend advanced active shooter training by the Department of Criminal Justice Service. He will oversee tactical operation and training.
• Officer Bill Shaffner is an academy-level instructor and member of the tactical response team. He is certified as a taser instructor and is also an academy-level driving trainer.
• Officer Chris Hines is an academy-level instructor. He was also honored as “Co-Police Officer of the Year” by the Elks Lodge for serving with Burnett in the rescue. He has led the department in DUI arrests for the past three years. He was second among uniform police officers in felony arrests. Hines also conducts Drug Abuse Resistance Education in Galax schools.
• Officer Terry Woods joined the Galax Police Department in September 2010.
• Sgt. Shawny Jones was promoted to sergeant in 2010. He is a member of the tactical response team. Jones led the department in traffic enforcement and led uniform patrol officers in on-view arrests in 2010. He will assume responsibility for recruit field training.
• Officer Adam Newman joined the police department in 2009. As part of his field training, he worked with Walmart to alleviate traffic congestion and parking issues.
• Officer Mark Burnett was second among uniform patrol officers in on-view arrests in 2010 and in traffic enforcement. He has been promoted to sergeant and will assume that position in mid-April.
• Officer Bryan Felts is an academy-level instructor and serves as Sgt. Danita Jackson's senior police officer.
• Sgt. Danita Jackson is nationally certified as a Rape Aggression Defense trainer, a program she and Officer Vickie Taylor offer each year at Galax High School.
• Officer Kevin Hall has been selected to facilitate the department's “Iron Cop Fitness Challenge.”
• Officer Jacob Vaughan is an academy-level instructor and holds certification as a firearms instructor. He was chosen to handle Dunja, the department's police canine.
• Officer John Reavis is assigned as the senior member of his shift. He was the first officer on the scene of the May 1, 2010, shooting incident at Walmart.
• Detective Robbie Isom is assigned to narcotics investigation and played a lead role in more than 90 narcotics cases in the Twin Counties in the past year. He is considered by his peers to be an authority on meth trafficking in Virginia. He was second in felony arrests in the past year.
• Detective J.B. Greer is partnered with Isom as a member of the narcotics task force. He and Isom were successful in apprehending the individual responsible for the robbery of Wood Forest Bank in August. He led the department in felony arrests in the past year.
• Detective Aaron Criner is an academy-level instructor and was instrumental in the formation of a major crime scene task force that brings together Forensic Academy graduates and six separate jurisdictions. Criner is certified as a Crime Prevention Specialist. He was third in the department in felony arrests in the past year.
• Officer Vickie Taylor is an academy-level instructor and is certified as a Rape Aggression Defense Trainer. Along with Sgt. Chris Brown, she coordinates the National Night Out effort of the Galax Crime Prevention Coalition. Taylor is certified Crime Prevention Specialist. Taylor also conducts Gang Resistance Education And Training in the middle school.
• Officer Darrin Alley is assigned as court security officer and ordinance enforcement officer. In 2010 he successfully brought 111 residences into compliance with the abandoned car ordinance. Alley is certified as a Crime Prevention Specialist.
• Sgt. Jim Spence, a 25-year veteran, left the police department in 2010 to pursue a professional opportunity in the Middle East. He is using his canine-handling expertise to provide security for the military in Afghanistan.
• Sgt. Chris Brown is assigned to Special Operations and is an academy-level instructor. He coordinates the National Night Our and Certified Crime Prevention Community programs. In the past year, he completed security site assessments at Twin County Regional Hospital and other city businesses. Brown is a Crime Prevention Specialist and is a member of the Virginia Attorney General's Seniors and Law Enforcement Council.
• Capt. James Cox is deputy chief of police. He was elected vice chair of the Virginia Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission in 2010. Cox coordinates the Galax Police accreditation efforts. In 2010 he participated in the on-site accreditation of police and sheriffs' offices across the state, including the City of Richmond Police Department and Newport News Sheriff's Office.