Dozens of Rainelle residents came out to attend “Operation Take Back Our Town” and have their voices heard.
Citizens spoke out about numerous issues within the town including the increase in drug activity, recent thefts, backpackers, vacant buildings and more during the event, hosted by Rainelle Police Chief J.P. Stevens on Tuesday, Oct. 12.
The main complaint from residents is that they no longer feel safe in their town. Many just want to be able to take a stroll down the sidewalks or sit on their front porch again without fear.
Stevens said that his main priority, now that he is once again police chief, is giving that freedom back to the citizens.
“Even though the last administration discharged me, I still kept in contact with a majority of you guys,” Stevens told those in attendance. “A lot of you called me for help, but there was nothing I could do. I just kept telling you to go to council and try to get some help. So, I feel bad because this town just went to ground zero.”
He continued that what happened to the town is “terrible,” but that step-by-step, a change will be made.
For over an hour, Stevens listened to concerns and discussed how the issues are being taken care of from a law enforcement perspective. He also offered suggestions for things that citizens can do to address the issues, as well.
– Issue 1-Abandoned buildings and squatters
Stevens said that he has noticed an increase in the amount of those experiencing homelessness in Rainelle. It has been noted that many of them are squatting in the vacant structures throughout the town. He said officers are monitoring the homes and larger buildings to see how many people are squatting at each location. He said that it seems that most of these people are not Rainelle natives.
He also noted that the current administration is working on writing an ordinance that would make owners of vacant structures responsible for upkeep and demolition if needed. This type of ordinance may take care of the squatters inside the structures, possibly forcing people into camps in the woods. However, Stevens noted that he will be working with Division of Natural Resources (DNR) officers to address that, as well.
In response to a question about people digging through trash cans looking for food, Stevens said that once a person places trash out on the sidewalk, it becomes open to the public. Anyone can go through the trash, even the police. However, if a trash can or dumpster is still located on private property, it is illegal for anyone to enter private property to go through trash. If this is the case, Stevens encouraged residents to contact the police department to report a trespasser.
“But once it hits that sidewalk, it is no longer yours,” Stevens reiterated.
– Issue 2-Loitering at businesses and trespassing on private property
Stevens said the town has an ordinance in place that makes loitering illegal. He asked all business owners to place “No Loitering” signs on their storefronts and fill out a form with the Rainelle Police Department that allows officers to enforce those signs. Additionally, he asked residents who own their property to place “No Trespassing” signs in visible locations and fill out the same paperwork, which will give officers the right to enter the property and remove the trespasser.
Don’t just paint purple marks on your property, Stevens said. He explained that the purple marks are primarily used for private landowners who do not want hunters to enter their land.
“Not everyone is aware of what purple paint means,” Stevens said. “Post those ‘No Trespassing’ signs.”
– Issue 3-Theft
“The thieving in this town is really, really bad,” Stevens said. “I’ve never seen the likes of all the stuff that is getting stolen.”
He explained that items are being stolen from people’s front porches and that people are using tools to remove locks from buildings. Stevens said he encourages everyone to call the police department if they notice something missing. For those who can afford it, Stevens said placing cameras around homes is the way to go.
Even as Stephens was conducting the meeting Monday evening, he received a call that a car had just been reported stolen along Main Street. Officers from another department were responding to that call.
“See, this is what I am talking about,” Stevens noted. “We have got to get together to try to stop these things from happening.”
– Issue 4-Drug Activity
Stevens said there are people in town who are working to get over their addiction, but there are those who are not. He noted that he and his officers are tracking those who are engaging in drug activity and are working on finding the dealers and their main source.
“Heroin is in here real bad,” Stevens said. An average of one to two overdoses occur each week, he added. “This place is out of control. It’s completely out of control.”
Although he couldn’t comment on the effectiveness of drug treatment facilities in town, he said that citizens may report any illegal activity they notice to him, or to the other town officers.
– Issue 5-Backpackers
It is illegal for an officer to stop a person and dump the contents of their backpack out onto the sidewalk, contrary to what has been said to residents in the past, Stevens noted. He added that officers will stop and talk to those they see with backpacks to find out who they are and what they are doing. The same will go for those who ride bicycles throughout town.
In order to start addressing these issues, Stevens said citizens need to work with the police department to achieve a common goal—safety and a better neighborhood.
He added that it is vitally important for all citizens to call 911 whenever they have an issue. The 911 center keeps a log of every call that comes through and can provide documentation of those calls in case they are ever needed.
Additionally, Stevens said he is working with Mayor Robin Williams to get more part-time officers hired.
Stevens concluded that he plans to hold regular meetings with citizens as part of “Operation Take Back Our Town.” The next meeting will be announced at a later date.