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Fighting drug abuse tops agenda for Putnam sheriff candidates

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Fighting the epidemic of prescription drug abuse is the top priority for both candidates running for sheriff in Putnam County. They told Gazette editors Monday that's what most crimes can be traced back to.

Steve Deweese, a Republican, and Bud Lett, a Democrat, would increase the size of the county's drug task force, which has three officers.

"I'd draw from some local departments inside the county and build back the task force like it was when I was supervisor," said Lett, a former federal Drug Enforcement Administration officer and State Police trooper who is now chief of the Kenova Police Department. "We had six men, at one time."

As a DEA agent supervising drug task forces, Lett came to Putnam County and helped restore federal grant money for the county's program in the 1990s, he said.

Deweese, who retired earlier this year to run for sheriff after serving 21 years as a Putnam County sheriff's deputy, believes more officers in county high schools and a drug tip line answered by a deputy, rather than a voice recording, is also necessary.

"The biggest thing is increasing the amount of the drug task officers -- they need some help," Deweese said.

Also, "With the tip line, right now ... it goes right to an answering machine. ... What if you call the tip line on a Friday with good information [and it's not checked until Monday]?"

Neither candidate said he would favor a law requiring a prescription for pseudoephedrine, a cold medicine that is a major ingredient in methamphetamine. The candidates said that would be too much of a hardship on law-abiding citizens, and that new pseudoephedrine tracking efforts were already having an impact on meth.

Both candidates, who grew up in Putnam County, said their extensive knowledge of the county would help increase needed patrols in rural areas.

"Call volume is overwhelming now," Deweese said. "Some areas rarely see deputies at times."

Deweese and Lett both said they would apply for federal grants aimed at increasing police presence in rural communities.

"We have to draw on other resources," Lett said. "When it comes to drug investigations, it takes a lot of money."

Deweese said some citizens have asked him if his having worked for the department would make it tough to discipline his former co-workers. He noted his time in the military and explained the during a deployment he had to reprimand several of his fellow soldiers.

"If elected as sheriff, I'd use the same discipline to protect the citizens," he said.

Deweese and Lett are running to replace Sheriff Mark Smith, who has served the maximum eight years in office.

State voters will consider a proposal to eliminate the term limit for sheriffs, but neither Deweese nor Lett thought the term limit should be eliminated.

"That can result in a lot of power, maybe too much in a county setting," Deweese said.

"For myself, eight years is enough," Lett said, agreeing that someone in the position could obtain too much power. "You have to be careful about that. Voting someone out is easier said than done sometimes."

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723.


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