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'The Heights' Airs Concerns Over B&Es

PRINCE EDWARD – It was hot and humid in the Heights on Wednesday evening. Capt. Wesley Reed, Investigator Richard Hurak and deputy Brandon Cummings took the heat from the crowd gathered at the firehouse for a Sheriff's Department forum on the recent rash of break-ins and the formation of a Neighborhood Watch Chapter.

Anger and frustration showed in the voices of many in the audience – including some of the crime victims who demanded an end to the crime spree and better communications from the Sheriff's Dept.

The 100 or so attendees listened intently as Capt. Reed explained his department's investigation. “We are working on it day and night, said Reed. “There have been a number of leads and possible descriptions of the criminals involved but we are not limiting our investigation based on one or two reports. We have major assistance in our investigation from the State Police, the Game Department, the Charlotte County Sheriff's Department, and Town of Farmville Police.” “We know what you as victims are feeling – being a victim of such a personal crime is a difficult thing to deal with. “It hurts.”

At least 19 unsolved break-ins in the county since May have left many rural residents wondering where the police are. (The break-ins have been reported from Abilene (6); Five Forks (3); Virso Road (2); Meherrin Road (4); Landon Road (1) and Darlington Heights (3) Several Complaints were aired over a lack of communication from the Sheriff's Department. Reed urged callers to use the Sheriff's Department Crime Solver Line 434-392-3400 or call 911 in any emergency. There were also complaints about the ineffectiveness of the 911 systems because calls to the Sheriff's Office are transferred by the 911 operators unless there is an urgent emergency or fire. “Sometimes calls come in and they go thru two or three dispatchers – that hurts us,” noted Reed. “The 911 system is making the Sheriff's Department look bad.” Operating dual dispatching between the town and county has been subject for discussion for years.

Reed noted similarities between the break-ins which included all have been Daytime robberies 2) 99% are to homes very close to the road. 3) objects stolen include flat screen TVs, guns and jewelry. Thieves do not appear to be targeting homes way off the road.

Additional suggestions from the crowd included adding more road checks and spot checks of vehicles. “You have to have probably cause to stop a vehicle and traffic stops must be planned out and generally are aimed at DUI's or other specific instances,” responded investigator Hurak. Reed said patrols have been beefed up in the county and include plain clothes and undercover law enforcement. “We have intelligence throughout the State of Virginia,” Reed offered. The citizens need to help us out. Record the serial numbers off your guns, and electronics and lets get a Neighborhood Watch program started here.” He also advised taking photos of guns, jewelry and electronics. Without being able to identify your property – it can't be returned to you when it is recovered.

In answering questions a ripple of laughter follow a woman's question about when “she could shoot a robber.” Reed advised not shooting anybody and that a shooting was justified only when you are eminent danger of physical injury or violence. “I can't tell you legally that you can ever kill somebody,” said Reed. Reed suggested that at least 85% of the robberies are related. They could even be part of a statewide crime ring.

“Prince Edward County has 15 road deputies and it is 354 square miles. There is one deputy per 1800 residents of the county,” noted Reed. “Know your neighbors” he continued “and call us whenever you need us. If you have a complaint call us. You are our eyes and ears.” “We will get a break in this case. It will be solved.”

Capt. Reed acknowledged the presence of county board chairman, W.G. Fore and thanked him for helping Prince Edward add three new deputies recently.

Local hunter and landowner Lou Gilliam suggested people use a motion sensor game camera as part of their home defense.

After the hour-plus long question and answer forum, the agenda changed to organizing a Neighborhood Watch chapter in Darlington Heights. Thirty or more residents agreed with the need and scheduled a second meeting to put the program into action. A Neighborhood Watch will happen.

It was interesting that WSET channel 13 was in attendance and filmed a number of residents for their 11 o'clock newscast Wednesday night. Their comments included concerns with effectiveness of law enforcement and frustration over a lack of information. Response time to citizen's calls and what has been called a “lack of presence” by the sheriff's department also continued to upset many in attendance.