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Council addresses recurring vandalism

AHOSKIE – Zero tolerance.

That's the stance Town of Ahoskie officials took here Tuesday regarding an ongoing problem with loitering and vandalism, allegedly the fault of a group of local young people.

The comments came following the close of Tuesday's scheduled agenda at a meeting of the Ahoskie Town Council. Earlier in the meeting, Ahoskie property owner Ease Lassiter addressed a problem with vandalism at buildings he owned. At one point, Lassiter noted that while he didn't want to stoop to a violent act, he, in the course of protecting his property, would shoot someone if found on his property and were threatening to him or his family members.

"I really hated to hear that man (Lassiter) say he might shoot somebody on his property," said Councilman Larry Vann. "But he does have a legitimate concern about the problem we have with young people roaming the streets here in Ahoskie."

Vann wanted to know what course of action the town could undertake to curb this problem.

"What type of message do we need to send in order to unite the town in an effort to curtail and eliminate these types of activities," Vann asked. "The children are at fault, but the parents or guardians need to be held accountable as well. Plus, our police department can't be everywhere at all times. We need to partner with the police through an inclusive effort by citizens and business owners here in Ahoskie."

Ahoskie Police Chief Troy Fitzhugh said he was addressing the issue by speaking with local community groups and churches.

"We're urging those groups to join with us in this battle," said the Chief. "Personally, I have a zero tolerance for such activities, but for me and my department to perform our jobs as police officers, we need the help of the town citizens and business owners."

Fitzhugh said that help can begin by simply having homeowners and business owners to erect no loitering signs on their property.

"Then, when we take a report and make an arrest, we need these property owners to press charges," Fitzhugh stressed. "They need to send the message that loiterers, trespassers and vandals are not welcomed on their property. If they fail to speak out and not press charges, then we, as police officers, cannot perform our jobs by carrying things through to the next level of justice, the court system."

The Police Chief also addressed a growing problem with graffiti.

"It's popping up all over town and we can't make an arrest unless we catch them in the act," he said. "But by sending a message that this and other acts of vandalism will not be tolerated, maybe it will help curtail the problem with graffiti."

Vann said he liked the idea of the police department joining forces with property owners to fight this battle.

"If the property owners join this fight, we need to stand behind them 100 percent," Vann noted. "That might be the message we need to send n there's strength in numbers."

Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn said she felt the time was right to do than just talk about this issue.

"This problem is not getting any better, it's getting worse," Blackburn said. "It's now moved from Catherine Street to the area behind Lowes n Everette, Roberts and Garrett streets. We need to take action. We need to take our streets back."

Following a closed session dealing with another issue, Blackburn reported that a decision was reached in open session where, based on Vann's suggestion, council members will go into the affected areas of town and talk first-hand with those who have been targets of vandalism.