MONTGOMERY COUNTY – Crime relating to illegal drug use was a primary topic at the Thursday, Sept. 28 candidate forum in Montgomery County.
Incumbents Sheriff Hank Partin and Commonwealth Attorney Mary Petit, both running unopposed, were present at the candidate forum, which has been part of a series hosted by the NAACP and League of Women Voters to introduce political candidates running for offices on this year’s November election ballots.
Candidates began the evening by introducing themselves and their offices to the community they serve and providing some background information on their experience.
“We prosecute criminal cases in Montgomery County,” Petit said. “I have been in this office for 17 years. Prior to that, I was in two other commonwealth attorneys’ offices; I was in Roanoke County for a while and I was in Gloucester County which is my hometown, down near Yorktown and Williamsburg area.”
Sheriff Hank Partin has served Montgomery County since 2016 and is seeking his third term of office.
“On January 1st of ’24, I will enter my 38th year in law enforcement, the last 30 of which have been with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s office” Partin said. “I’m also a proud veteran with over 22 years of service in the United States Army, Army Reserve and National Guard. I deployed and served under numerous operations after 9/11 and retired in November of 2004 at the rank of Sergeant Major.”
Many of the crimes that occur in Montgomery County have a component of substance abuse according to Petit. These offenses can vary from possession, domestic abuse, drug dealing, burglary, or vehicle-related infractions.
“One of the things that we do is we certainly prosecute people. We prosecute the drug dealers,” Petit said. “For the drug users, we prosecute them but it’s a little bit more maybe of carrot with a little stick behind it as well.”
Petit said one program that was implemented in 2017 was the Drug Court program. The program requires at least two years to graduate, requires 100 hours of community service, and participants must maintain a job or enroll in an education program at a higher education institution.
“We’ve saved about $200,000 for our county, that’s not on the state level,” Petit said.
The community service also provides some cost savings as well, but the most successful part of the program would be the benefit to the families.
Partin pointed out his history with the sheriff’s office and how that has helped him to know what changes needed to be made when he took office. The sheriff holds the unique power of being able to hire or fire as needed to maintain a cohesive and well-functioning group of officers and staff.
The Sheriff also took office in 2016 at a time of transition when the new sheriff’s office and Regional 911 Center opened.
“The sheriff’s office is a well-oiled machine right now,” Partin said.
The sheriff also discussed the continued assault on the county of illegal drug substances such as narcotics and opioids.
“We are fighting as hard as we can,” said Partin. “Obviously, there is a drug problem in Montgomery County and having said that, as bad as that sounds, there is a drug problem all across this nation.”
Open borders are feeding this problem, according to Partin.
“I can tell you and you can talk to any DEA agent, including our Secretary of Public Safety at the state level, who is a DEA agent or former, any of them will tell you as long as our border remains wide open, it’s just going to get worse,” Partin said.
Partin also pointed out that all the public schools in Montgomery County have school resource officers. He gave thanks to the Board of Supervisors, especially for the elementary schools’ coverage, which he had a primary goal of supporting.
The school resource officers (SROs) have been an area of conflict for the County and town of Christiansburg. Providing SROs to each school involves funding but also selection of the right officer for the job. Partin says that the difficult task of finding the right person for each school starts with the person having a love for the job.
“It starts in the heart; they got to want to do it,” Partin said. “That’s why it is hard to hire SROs and that’s why we have two openings right now.”
Extensive training is also a large part of becoming an SRO, with some schools offering available courses at limited times of the year.
Petit responded to a question concerning the use of social workers in domestic abuse cases. Although, the hope is that counseling will be beneficial in helping to garner understanding and healing, Petit says that in the situation of domestic violence, there is an unequal level of power, and a social worker should not be called initially to the scene.
“What usually happens on the first time that there is a domestic violence situation is that it is brought to court but then counseling and some probation is ordered for the person that was the defendant in the case, the abuser in the case,” Petit said. “People are hurt in these situations and that’s not really appropriate to put social services in the middle of that.”
Partin agreed that social services should absolutely not be called to situations of domestic violence.
This was the fourth candidate forum in the series with two more events happening. On Oct. 5, Blacksburg Town Council candidates will meet in Blacksburg Council Chamber and on Oct. 12, Christiansburg Town Council candidates will meet in the Christiansburg Council Chamber.
“The League of Women Voters, Lifelong Learning Institute, and the NAACP will be sponsoring a community forum Wednesday, Oct. 4, on rank choice voting. The forum will be at 7 p.m. at the Blacksburg Town Council Chambers and we encourage you all to attend that forum,” said Karen Jones, NAACP Director of Administration.
Early voting began on Sept. 22. The Registrar’s Office has moved to beside the Food Lion on Franklin Street.