HAZARD – A serious crime occurs in Perry County every five hours, according to a recent Kentucky State Police report on crime data from across the state.
The report compiles data from the different law enforcement agencies that operated in the state in 2011, and also provides a county-by-county breakdown of each of the different categories of felony crimes with which those agencies dealt.
Here in Perry County, drug crimes top the list, with 642 offenses reported in 2011, which is actually somewhat down from 2010 when 653 offenses were reported. Theft charges ranked second in 2011 with 485 offenses, a sharp increase from 2010 when 245 offenses were reported.
Neither of these statistics are surprising for local authorities, who say drugs and theft have taken up the bulk of local criminal activity for the past several years, and most crimes, including theft, can be traced in some way back to the drug problem.
“That’s what we’re seeing on the ground, and that’s what they’re doing,” said Chief Deputy Tony Eversole with the Perry County Sheriff’s Office. “I would say that 90 percent of the thefts are drug related. It’s either to obtain the cash to get the drugs, or they’re actually looking for drugs to steal.”
More than half of the total 1,693 offenses reported in Perry County were done so in the city of Hazard. There were 351 drug offenses reported in the city, where the Hazard Police Department cleared 72 percent of the cases with an arrest. There were also 393 theft cases reported in 2011, where right at 50 percent of the cases were solved. Assault cases were the next highest reported felony crime with 79.
“We’re very aware that the majority of our criminal offenses are drug related,” noted HPD Major James East, who also estimated that roughly 90 percent of all thefts can be traced back to drug abuse in some way.
In the county where the sheriff’s office and the Kentucky State Police share first responder duties, 609 total felony crimes were reported in 2011, of which 213 were drug cases. Eversole said he looks for those kinds of numbers to increase as they also do so in other parts of the country as well. But the sheriff’s office has begun to step up enforcement, from immediately following up on tips to increasing the volume of traffic checkpoints in the county, the latter of which has recently paid off with arrests and drug seizures.
“We’re just really hammering down. We’ve beefed up patrols, we’re doing two or three traffic safety check points a week,” Eversole noted. “Every time we do that, we’re making large arrests and getting a lot of material off the roads, because that’s how they’re transporting the drugs. They’re just doing it openly.”
The city police department has been more aggressively tackling the drug problem for the past few months, an initiative that includes the formation of a public safety committee after Chief Minor Allen took over earlier this year. According to East, this committee is filled by a cross-section of the city’s population, and serves to inform the police department as to where the major problem areas in the city are located.
“We listen to their concerns,” East said. “They give us great input on problem areas, and when we are made aware of a certain area in the city that might be susceptible, or currently showing signs of illegal drug use or illegal drug activity, we are going to that area immediately.”
Hazard is seeing the bulk of the reported criminal activity, East noted, because of its central location in the region and that the city’s businesses draw customers from not only Perry County, but surrounding counties as well. With the increased activity, he said there is also going to be a higher rate of crime as well.
Ultimately, East said the hope is to see those numbers decrease, but in the meantime people should know that the department is going to continue to focus on the drug problem and continue to deal with reported crimes accordingly.
“Illegal drug use, illegal drug activity, will not be tolerated in the city limits, and we’re going to deal with it on a case-by-case basis.”