CHARLESTON — As he promised in his State of the State address on Jan. 8, Gov. Jim Justice on Thursday issued an executive order officially establishing the West Virginia Narcotics Intelligence Unit under the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety’s Intelligence Fusion Center.
The order will create a law enforcement unit to use state-of-the-art data analytics, forensic accounting and support to every West Virginia law enforcement agency to crack down on drug trafficking activity.
Justice called it a “strike force” in his address to legislators.
“I will promise you, promise you, that if you are kind enough to give us that opportunity — and I want to say this as sincerely and as forcefully as a human being could ever say it — I want to look right in the camera and tell anybody, anybody that is trying to come into our state with drugs: We are going to bust your ass. That’s all there is to it,” Justice said.
Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, called the new unit modern and forward thinking.
“Drug dealers don’t follow county borderlines,” he said.
The Intelligence Unit will be tasked with aiding West Virginia task forces and law enforcement agencies in the administration of criminal justice, including assisting in the detection, apprehension, detention, prosecution and adjudication of accused individuals or criminal offenders.
Woelfel said that as a former prosecutor, he knows drug dealers can be smart and evade law enforcement efforts once they catch on.
He said he hopes this new unit will help counties, especially smaller counties. There may be some pushback from local law enforcement, Woelfel said, who have a “this is our turf” mentality, but collaboration is the way forward.
Del. Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, also said he thinks the new unit is a fantastic idea. Like Woelfel, he said it will really help the smaller counties.
“The state police are stretched so thin that they are doing the bare-bones coverage in each county,” Rohrbach said. “We need some focused enforcement from time to time, but it’s not always in the same area. The idea of a mobile force that can be directed to certain areas in times of critical need is a great idea.”
Rohrbach said he’s sure drug dealers will show up in other areas once they’ve been dealt with in another, but the unit can then transition to that area. He compared it to a game of Whac-A-Mole, but at least the mole won’t sit in one area and continue to eat.
Justice is requesting $1.9 million in state appropriations to support the new unit. Rohrbach said he strongly supports providing that funding.