WHITMIRE — Residents voiced their concerns about what some called a war on drugs during Monday’s Town Council meeting, prompting officials to consider restarting a Neighborhood Watch program and adding another police officer.
Whitmire native Debbie Bruce said she felt fortunate to have been raised in Whitmire, but was concerned that the problems with drugs are consistently growing worse.
“We as citizens need to open our eyes to what is going on,” Bruce said. “It’s the biggest war that we are fighting in this town right now.”
Bruce said it would help significantly if each person at Monday’s meeting made it his or her business to know what was going on within their specific areas. She encouraged the community to report what they deemed suspicious.
Following Bruce’s comments, Mayor Billy Hollingsworth invited Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster to come forward to add to the discussion. Foster said he did not disagree with Bruce’s thoughts on the “war” against drugs.
Foster, who has been in law enforcement 35 years, said drugs have always been a problem. He said that was one of the reasons he was adamantly opposed to making marijuana legal.
“We all need to have our guard up about that,” he said.
Foster said the federal government has removed a lot of support it used to provide to law enforcement, whether through enforcement, education or legislation.
“It is very expensive and complex to complete a drug investigation,” Foster said.
Foster said the federal government is requiring them to do more and more investigations using information given to them by residents. While that used to be enough for officers to move forward in a case, investigations go more in depth today.
Foster said their use of electronic surveillance equipment — such as drones — has been limited more.
Foster also mentioned the arrest of Deundrea Morquiel Elkins, who was caught with more than two pounds of marijuana in his possession during a traffic stop. Foster said Elkins was released the next day on a personal recognizance bond, which he blamed on the court system.
War on drugs, crime
Foster said the Newberry County Sheriff’s Department would commit the resources needed to help Whitmire and the rest of the county fight crime.
“Just because we’ve lost funding, doesn’t mean we quit,” Foster said.
Foster also mentioned the fight against the drug Pseudoephedrine, which Foster said is the key ingredient in methamphetamine.
Foster said they track purchases of Pseudoephedrine, which has helped them make cases but a new trend called “smurfing” is now occurring. Smurfing means other people buy the the drug so the person needing it doesn’t go over the amount a person can buy each month.
Foster said they have tried unsuccessfully to get Pseudoephedrine classified where it can only be dispensed through a prescription from a doctor. Oregon currently operates this way, which has reduced that state’s methamphetamine usage down to almost zero, he said.
Foster encouraged Whitmire residents to let their legislator, whether at the local or federal level, know how important it is to pass laws that will help South Carolina.
Both of Newberry’s legislators, Sen. Ronnie Cromer and Rep. Walt McLeod, have supported them in their efforts, Foster said, but the pharmaceutical lobby is too strong.
Foster said Crimestoppers is a way to anonymously let local law enforcement know about something but it might not be as quick. After someone calls 1-888-CRIME-SC, law enforcement receives an email and text alerting them to the tip, but the identity of the individual is not given.
No matter the method chosen, Foster encouraged Whitmire residents to get involved in their communities.
“Community involvement is important,” Foster said. “It doesn’t cost you anything to call, just your time.”
Hollingsworth suggested talking with Police Chief Jeremiah Sinclair about hiring back a fourth police officer for the town. Hollingsworth had suggested previously that they only have three officers, but said a fourth officer might be needed.
The town will advertise the position for at least two weeks before applications are taken and interviews conducted, he said.
“We did an excellent job with three officers, but I think it’s time to put the fourth one back,” Hollingsworth said.
Hollingsworth said a resident suggested starting a Neighborhood Watch program in Whitmire. Michael Thomas was appointed to see what Whitmire could do to get it started.
According to Hollingsworth, the town used to participate in the Neighborhood Watch program.
“The only way to succeed is working with people,” Hollingsworth said. “It’s time to get Whitmire back on track. If we pull together, we can make a difference.”