Belpre police building relationships within the community

By Joy Frank-Collins

Special to the Times

Belpre residents might have recently noticed an increase in police presence in their community. That’s by design, said Belpre Police Chief Terry Williams.

Increasing the force’s visibility is part of a new approach he’s taking to combating a rising crime rate and stagnant manning numbers.

So far, it’s working, he said.

“It’s a big thing I’ve been trying to do, just get our officers out and involved in the community,” he said.

“It’s helped. We’re building a great rapport with people in the community.”

The Belpre Police Department is comprised of Williams, 10 officers and four full- and one part-time dispatcher.

Together, they are responsible for the safety and protection of about 6,700 people and numerous businesses throughout an area of about three square miles.

Their jobs are getting harder, said Williams, who has been chief for three years. A lot of the issues can be traced to the opioid epidemic sweeping throughout Appalachia.

“The drug problem has risen significantly and people are stealing stuff like crazy to support their habit,” he said.

In addition to the increase of thefts he’s seen in the past two or three years, the department is also responding to an increasing number of overdose and overdose death situations as well as domestic violence calls.

And while most people welcome the new free-standing ER established by Marietta Memorial Hospital in Belpre, its presence has also taken a toll on the police department, significantly increasing their calls to respond to patients facing mental health issues or belligerent people in the lobby, he added.

Unfortunately, manpower numbers aren’t impacted by increased workload. In fact, the Belpre Police Department has the same number of officers now that they did when Williams joined the force 22 years ago, he said.

“It’s the biggest challenge we face, manpower is just thin,” he said.

That’s what forced him to get inventive and get his officers out into the community more.

They can be regularly seen eating lunch with senior citizens and in local schools, conducting drug education classes and doing meet and greets throughout the city.

Belpre Elementary School Principal Joy Edgell has seen officers from the department almost daily for the past three years.

They make it a point to visit the school routinely, sometimes “making a quick loop,” sometimes taking more time to chat with administrators and students.

“They have really taken ownership of this,” she said.

“And I think that it just shows a partnership between the police department and schools that as a community, we all want to support our kids.”

She said she believes their presence helps students feel more comfortable around police officers and even has helped some who may have been headed down the wrong path.

“We have great police officers in Belpre. And they’re just like part of the family,” she said.

Williams said he is pleased with the response his efforts have gotten so far.

“People are a lot more supportive of us then in other communities,” he said.