Chuck Burkhamer has been at the helm of the Rupert Police Department since February.
In just seven months as police chief, he has already implemented policies to significantly reduce criminal activity, and residents are beginning to notice.
When Burkhamer arrived in Rupert, he brought with him 17 years of law enforcement experience, including experience with the Clay County Sheriff’s Department, the town of Clendenin, the West Virginia Bureau for Child Support Enforcement, and the city of Richwood.
Although the Clay County native currently lives in Richwood, Greenbrier County is becoming his home away from home as he plans new ways to make Rupert a safer place for its roughly 2,000 residents.
One of his first goals as Rupert police chief was increasing the number of officers for the town, and in an environment where every law enforcement agency is striving to fill open positions, Burkhamer was able to hire two part-time officers—Shane Fields and Corey Willis.
“I wanted to get more coverage for the citizens, especially at night, to deter crime and serve the public,” Burkhamer said. “I was able to get council to hire these officers. They started in April.”
Once the two officers complete training at the academy, both will become full-time, he noted.
With his first goal complete, Burkhamer said that he has been able to focus his efforts on crime.
In communities across the nation, fighting the drug epidemic has become a number one priority for law enforcement, and things are no different in Rupert.
“We have a lot of drug activity,” said Burkhamer. He explained that the majority of residents in Rupert are hard-working and want to make the community a better place, but there is that small percentage of people who choose to behave otherwise.
Methamphetamine is still the major drug of choice for those in the area, but Burkhamer said that he is starting to see a lot more heroin use. He added that during a recent traffic stop, the driver was in possession of three bags of heroin.
“It’s starting to trickle down,” he said.
“A lot of those engaging in drug traffic use the railroad tracks as their mode of transportation to keep out of sight,” Burkhamer noted. “So we have started running people off the tracks. We are actively going after the drug population. If we see something suspicious, we go after it.”
He admitted that criminals will always change the way they do business when they realize officers are becoming aware of their pattern, but that those in his department continue to come up with new plans as well.
“It is always a work in progress,” Burkhamer stated.
Although vagrancy is not a big issue in town, it is still a problem, he continued.
“Abandoned homes and buildings are a big part of drug activity,” Burkhamer said. “It is where they go to shoot up drugs. We are not seeing it a lot, but we are checking on buildings and running people off.”
Most of the crime committed in Rupert is, for the most part, non-violent, according to Burkhamer. However, thefts are commonplace due to the need for those in the drug population to fund their habit.
“We are working on the problem,” Burkhamer said.
Another goal for the Rupert Police Department is cutting down on the number of speeders through town.
Burkhamer said that before he took over, he was told that speeding and motor vehicle accidents were an issue for residents and he wanted that to change.
“A lot of people walk or ride bicycles,” Burkhamer said of residents. “Children do the same thing. We want to make the town safe for people who need to walk.”
He said that the speed limit is 35 mph, but that many drivers act like they are on the interstate.
In addressing the rumor that Rupert has become a “speed-trap” town, Burkhamer explained that there has been a noticeable increase in the amount of traffic citations handed out to speeders, but that he and his officers give just as many warnings as they do tickets.
Burkhamer said that he understands the public perception of law enforcement officers as being somewhat intimidating, but that he does not want law-abiding citizens in Rupert to feel intimidated at all. He added that he strives to get to know people in town, so they can feel better knowing they can talk to him if they have a problem. He also wants people to know that he is approachable and fair.
“I have an open door policy here,” Burkhamer said. “People can come in and talk with me about anything. It doesn’t matter what the subject is, I will be more than happy to talk.”
“I want my officers to be friendly, to wave, to stop and talk to kids,” he continued. “I want people to be able to trust us.”
To make this happen, Burkhamer explained that he and his officers will be increasing their foot patrols and that he wants every resident to see a police officer drive by their home at least two or three times per hour.
“We want to go out and meet people, walk the back streets and see things that are happening in alleys and on railroad tracks,” he added. “I want my people to be seen. I want them to do a little bit of everything.”
While Burkhamer wants the citizens to know that he is there for them, on the other hand, he does want those engaging in criminal activity to know that he will be tough.
Recently, the Rupert Municipal Court, led by Sam Ripley, has been granted the authority to give jail sentences to those charged with misdemeanor offenses.
“The fear of that is helping us combat drug activity,” Burkhamer said. It lets people know that “Rupert is serious about this drug stuff.”
In the not too distant future, Burkhamer said he hopes business owners, who may have been hesitant to locate their business in Rupert due to ongoing drug activity, will now see that things are being corrected and decide to come to town.
For those who have questions, or who just want to talk to Burkhamer, he can be reached by calling Rupert City Hall at 304-392-5682.