City talks about drug crime issues

STEUBENVILLE – Sixth Ward Councilman Bob Villamagna called for the implementation of a private consultant’s study of the City Police department, urged consideration of a police dog and an increase in the police patrol presence in the community.

City Council Safety Committee members unanimously expressed frustration Thursday evening with what they called the growing number of drug related incidents in the city.

“I’m talking about zero tolerance. If you violate the law, it’s a citation. The drug task force is great. But the backbone of the department has always been the patrolmen. Those guys are the ones who take the brunt of everything,” Villamagna said.

He discussed his personal plan for increasing the number of police officers.

According to Villamagna, if three officers issue four citations a day, that can generate $1,188 in revenue.

“The time for talking is done. We talk and talk, but the bottom line is we have to do something. We need to have extra patrolmen on LaBelle, Pleasant Heights and elsewhere. These cops will be the guys people don’t want to see,” said Villamagna.

Villamagna also cited the number of drug related deaths in Jefferson County and the number of sexually transmitted diseases in 2013.

“Citizens are nervous and scared. There is drug use taking place in our store and restaurant parking lots. There are normal people shopping who feel threatened by the drug sellers and buyers in the parking lots. We need to do something for our citizens,” said 3rd Ward Councilman Greg Metcalf.

“I would like to say we don’t have a drug problem. But it is the worst I have ever seen. There is a tremendous heroin problem in the city. We used to have a pill problem but now it is heroin. We are like many other cities in the country. Drug dealers like to sell in an urban atmosphere. We have people coming from out of the area to buy heroin in Steubenville because we have dealers putting out a high level heroin right now. We recently indicted 12 to 14 guys on drug charges and we have another 12 to 14 guys who should be indicted. We need to find a way to keep the buyers from coming to Steubenville,” stated Drug Task Force member Jason Hanlin.

“We need to severely inconvenience the buyers from coming here. You need someone dedicated to the problem. The drug task force is working on long-term cases. Someone needs to be working on the buyers coming into Steubenville. The police officers can’t do that with accident calls and dogs running loose calls,” Hanlin said.

“We need to come up with an idea for more funding for the police department today, tomorrow and next year. I know a police dog is not going to issue citations. Our job as the council is to figure out a way to come up with the money,” noted Councilman at large Kenny Davis.

Villamagna and 2nd Ward Councilman Mike Johnson asked City Manager Tim Boland to review a year-old study of the police department by retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency supervisor Jim Mavromatis and to implement his recommendations.

That study never has been made public.

“We have to move to help the police. There is a lack of support right now. The report has to be acted on. We have to find a way to help the police,” Villamagna said.

“We have to get you more people in your department. But we also have to work more effectively. We need to clean up the neighborhoods,” added Johnson.

“If you look at the city’s table of organization since I became chief we have less police officers every year. We had 50 officers when I took over. Now we are at 38 police officers,” responded Police Chief Bill McCafferty.

Mavromatis recommended Mayor Domenick Mucci work with county officials to make more space available at the Jefferson County jail for city prisoners.

“If you put these guys in jail for 30 or 60 days that will hurt their business. I also think the citizens will support a police levy if they understand what the money from the levy will be used for,” said Mavromatis.

“This is a relatively pretty safe city. Steubenville has been a victim of poor press. This is still a great city but there is still work to do. It’s not good where we are at. The tools are here but we have to get everyone on board,” Mavromatis remarked.

Boland said he will review the suggestions and comments from the Thursday night meeting with McCafferty and will prepare for another safety committee meeting next month.