Oak Grove: Meth and mayhem? Angry residents crowd meeting to vent about town's drug problems
OAK GROVE -- Fewer than 400 people live in Oak Grove, a tiny municipality tucked away in the north of Carroll County. The place is not noted for civic engagement: Fewer than three of the townspeople show up at most months' City Council meetings -- and, then, only if they're angry enough.
But lately, a lot of folks in Oak Grove are angry.
Several dozen residents crowded the cramped Town Hall on Tuesday, speaking to city leaders and law enforcement in impassioned tones -- each of them saying essentially the same thing: Their little town has a big meth problem, and they need help.
The problem is not new, residents say. The town has been a meth haven -- one man used the word "Disneyland" -- for years. However, they also say the problem is growing, and that police don't seem to be listening.
Capt. Alan Hoos and Deputy Charles Dale of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office did listen Tuesday night -- for more than two hours -- and what they heard was not flattering.
One man told the officers people in Oak Grove no longer trusted the Sheriff's Office. Another said he had no respect for them. Several called the situation a "joke," but no one laughed. Instead, they vented.
"I can sit in my living room and watch people buying drugs," one woman said. "I've lived here 14 years, and I've seen it all through (that time), and it's getting worse.
"I've called. I've told the police. I've walked over and knocked on the policeman's window and pointed people out to him -- It didn't do a bit of good. They're not interested. They're scared to death of 'em -- afraid they're gonna get shot.
"I can understand. I wouldn't want to get shot, either. But when you take the job to deal with people like that, then that's your job."
Others spoke of taking the law into their own hands.
"An officer told us that if we tried to do something, we'd be thrown in jail," one man said. "That ain't the answer no more. Before long, you're gonna find bodies lying around, and you ain't gonna know what happened. These people out here aren't getting any help at all. And I (wouldn't) blame them a bit for dropping a hammer on some of these people."
People said they were "terrorized" by the increasing crime. They complained of hoodlums screaming down the highway at night, shooting guns, and breaking into their homes; of nosebleeds caused by the stench of meth being cooked; and of houses that might never sell, because who would want to live in a town known for meth and mayhem?
One 50-year-long resident of the town said he had never felt the need to lock his doors until six months ago. This year, he said, thousands of dollars in property had been stolen from him -- none of it yet recovered.
"I didn't work at the chicken plant for some 30 years to have someone break into my house and rob me so they could buy drugs," he said.
Hoos listened patiently as the crowd poured out their frustrations, but he had little to offer. A large part of the problem, Hoos said, was that there simply aren't enough resources to go around.
"Counting the sheriff," he said, "I have 19 deputies. Patrol-wise, I have seven officers to cover 640-something square miles, the entire county. At any one time, I have maybe two out (on the street) -- if I'm lucky. ... We try to get up here as much as we can."
He advised the crowd to contact their representative on the Quorum Court, which controls the county purse strings.
"In order for us to get (more officers) out, we've got to get ... the Quorum Court to approve the overtime," he said. Beyond this, he added, the department is understaffed.
Justice of the Peace Larry Swofford, who represents Oak Grove, stood unnoticed in the back of the room as Hoos spoke.
"Since you're bringing up the Quorum Court about every other second," Swofford said, "we paid for a lot of overtime last year." The JP said there was not enough money in the county budget to fund more deputies, adding that the department had grown substantially in recent years.
"Along with the department growing, so has the problem," Hoos responded, "and our problem is trying to get ahead of it."
The officers took steps to do just that on Tuesday. Hoos assured the crowd he would scale up patrols in the town, increase the use of undercover drug buys, and stage a meth awareness class to help people identify the signs of meth manufacturing. Before the meeting ended, the officers also collected contact information from the crowd and pledged to begin working with them to develop evidence that might lead to more arrests.
Hoos also said he would work with those interested to develop a neighborhood watch and would accept volunteers to the department's reserve officer program.
Toward the beginning of the meeting, someone in the crowd had asked Hoos why Sheriff Bob Grudek did not attend.
"He's on vacation," Hoos said.
"I'll bet he is," someone retorted.
Oak Grove Mayor Sam Jones said the local constable and Prosecuting Attorney Tony Rogers had also been invited. Neither showed up.