CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The city of Charleston is learning no good deed goes unpunished. During the past week, Charleston Police have arrested more than 20 people for various crimes in the city and nearly all of the suspects are transient criminals from out of state.
“They come to Charleston from other states and what we have found is we’re arresting people every day from Texas, Virginia, Florida, North Carolina,” said Charleston Police Chief of Detectives Lt. Steve Cooper. “They’re here in Charleston and they’re committing quite a bit of property crime.”
City businesses have been the target of numerous break ins. Six people were arrested in two separate break-ins within 24 hours at an Appalachian Power substation on Young Street. Both incidents involved transients trying to steal copper and tools. A man from Texas was arrested Friday morning after chasing the manager of the OneStop Convenience store on Lee Street west back into the building and actually going into her office carrying a rock.
The most high profile crime in the category came two weeks ago with Carl Magee, 34, of California allegedly doused a woman with gasoline and set her on fire while she slept on a porch on the city’s west side. The woman later died of her injuries and Magee is jailed for murder.
“It’s a real issue right now,” Cooper said. “We’re addressing it in some ways that may be more effective, but at this point I would call it a crisis.”
The city may have inadvertently invited the problem. Charleston has worked diligently to create programs to benefit the city’s homeless with shelter and food services. Instead, Cooper said it’s become a destination for a bad element.
“A lot of these guys we’re arresting are telling us that’s why they stayed. They get three meals a day,” Cooper explained. “The services were generally designed to help mostly local folks going through a rough time. What’s happened is we’ve had a huge influx of out-of-state, transient, career criminals.”
The problem is city-wide according to Cooper and night shift officers say the city seems to “come alive” around 1 a.m. with suspicious people looking for targets to break in.
Police are increasing patrols and in other cases have sent in officers undercover to hopefully stop the crimes as they are about to occur.
“I don’t want to reveal all of our tactics,” said Cooper. “But we’re trying to sneak up on them while they’re sneaking up on everybody else.”