Local Cops Can’t Win the Drug War

Earl “Bob” Kendle Jr. has spent 38 years in law enforcement, the last eight as sheriff of Tyler County. In all that time, he does not recall a drug problem like what his area is suffering now.

“I never thought I’d say this: I wish we could go back to simple marijuana instead of what we have today,” Kendle told our reporter last week.

Barred by state law from seeking a third term, Kendle is retiring. His satisfaction in waging war on drug pushers is limited to a feeling that, “We’ve made a dent.”

But, he adds, “We haven’t done what I’d like to do: Run everybody out of here that’s doing that (dealing in illegal drugs).”

Kendle’s frustration is echoed in many areas of West Virginia, especially rural counties where, as he alluded, marijuana once was the extent of the substance abuse problem. Harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin were found in big cities, but not much in places such as Tyler County.

What has happened is that drug wholesalers have learned they can find street-level dealers in rural areas or sometimes send their own pushers in to corner small-town markets.

“…these people around here are not the kingpins. They are just carriers and runners,” Kendle explained. “They are coming in from Detroit, Wheeling, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, you name it — all the big cities. It’s coming here.”

Sheriffs and small-town police chiefs everywhere, not just in West Virginia, do what they can. They arrest the pushers they can catch, often netting people from big cities or even other countries. But they cannot get at the kingpins, who can always find new street-level dealers.

It is clear to many local law enforcement officials, officers and deputies that not enough is being done to find and imprison those kingpins. The very nature of the problem is that it cannot be solved by local or even state law enforcement agencies. This is a matter for the federal government — and Washington is not getting the job done.

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