The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

October 12, 2012

Social media tips help battle fires and rioting in Morgantown

MORGANTOWN — Morgantown police got a least a dozen solid tips from a Facebook photo album it created in hopes of identifying people involved in last weekend’s fires and rioting, and Chief Ed Preston said his detectives were working Thursday to confirm identities.

It’s the first time the department has used social media to make arrests and interview witnesses, but Preston said it probably won’t be the last.

“It’s actually had a larger, faster effect than what we anticipated,” he said, generating not only comments online but also private messages and phone calls from people dismayed by the danger and destruction that followed WVU’s 48-45 win over Texas last weekend.

Police are archiving YouTube videos and Facebook and Twitter photos, primarily using images students themselves share. They’re also posting images taken by surveillance teams, news media and the general public.

Thanks to cellphones, “the anonymity they may have experienced in a crowd before is not as great,” Preston said.

Although reluctant to label it such, public shaming is a key part of the strategy that city and WVU officials came up with this week during a private meeting that followed last week’s mayhem.

More than 40 were deliberately set, and students threw rocks, beer bottles and other objects at police in riot gear, who dispersed them with pepper spray and a chemical gas.

That brings the number of deliberately set fires to 181 so far this year, said Fire Marshall Ken Tennant. Street fires account for 101 of those, while another 80 were set in large commercial trash bins.

That’s the fourth-highest number of fires in the 15 years the department has been logging them. The record is 274 in 2003, Tennant said, followed by 245 fires in 1998.

Only three more, and the city will surpass the 184 fires that were set in 1999.

Both Morgantown and WVU have tried for years to crack down on fire-starters, expelling students for bad behavior and invoking state arson laws rather than charging offenders with misdemeanors.

But it hasn’t worked.

Dean of Students Corey Farris says rioting is not limited to WVU; similar scenes have played out in Ohio, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. They also unfold after World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup and NBA championships, he said.

Still, he believes the culture at WVU can change. More students and non-students have been condemning such behavior, and that peer pressure is critical.

“We want to be able to go up and down the street and honk horns and high-five and pour out of our houses and celebrate,” Farris said. “But when you’re smacking your hands on cars as people are driving down the street or knocking over light posts or lighting fires in Dumpsters, that crosses the line.”

Preston and Farris say both police and WVU administrators will be using new tactics this weekend when the Mountaineers play at Texas Tech, and next weekend, when they’re at home against Kansas State in what promises to be the biggest game of the season.

Preston won’t divulge specifics for fear of escalating tensions.

“I want to defuse this. I don’t want these things to be repeated,” he said.

Preston worries his officers may eventually have to respond with force and said it’s fortunate the latest rioting resulted in no deaths, life-threatening injuries or catastrophic damage.

“We are very careful and cautious in how we respond,” he said. “But we do have plans in place that, should it escalate or get more violent, we have the ability to respond.”

Farris, meanwhile, said WVU administrators and student leaders will join police and fire officials in going door to door in problem neighborhoods to warn people about the consequences of bad behavior.

They’ll also be deploying to those neighborhoods long before games are over to monitor any potential problems.

“Will there be surveillance? Yes,” Farris said. “Will we be watching those house parties before they get 200-300 people and get out of control? Yes.”

And while the university is limited in what it can say about students under federal privacy laws, Farris said it’s with city officials to increase publicity about those convicted in the court system.

“It’s a full-court press,” Farris said. “We’re all angry and upset.”

Text Only
West Virginia
  • Candidates: Leave global warming debate to scientists

    Two West Virginia congressional hopefuls said during their first candidate forum matchup Thursday that the global warming debate is better left to scientists.
    Democrat Nick Casey and Republican Alex Mooney added that other countries should step up in reducing carbon emissions.

    July 24, 2014

  • Lawsuit filed over Dirty Girl Mud Run

    A lawsuit has been filed against the producers of a run that was canceled in Charleston in which participants were told they wouldn’t be issued refunds.

    July 24, 2014

  • WVa. man sues GM over wife's death

    A West Virginia man has filed a lawsuit against General Motors Corp., claiming a defective ignition switch in a Chevrolet Cobalt caused a 2006 accident that killed his pregnant wife.

    July 24, 2014

  • Feds commit to health studies on spilled chemical

    After largely dismissing the possibility of long-term health problems, federal officials will conduct more studies on chemicals that spilled into West Virginia’s largest drinking water supply in January.
    In the next two months, federal health officials are also heading back to West Virginia.

    July 24, 2014

  • Park Service assesses impact of W.Va. attractions

    Four National Park Service attractions in West Virginia drew a total of 1.5 million visitors last year.

    July 23, 2014

  • This weekend's 'Dirty Girl' race canceled

    Organizers of a Charleston running event that was canceled for this weekend says it won’t issue refunds.

    July 23, 2014

  • Reporter heard truck backfiring, not gunshot

    Similar sounds in different circumstances create different reactions. That is so for WVVA reporter Annie Moore, who last Monday told police someone fired a gun at her while she was shooting file footage in the area of a recent murder.

    July 19, 2014

  • Cornhole champions being decided in Charleston

    Cornhole, the strange-sounding game made popular in backyards and at football tailgate parties, is taking on a serious side this week.
    The American Cornhole Organization will crown its world champions as about 380 competitors from 17 states vie for $10,000 in prize money in singles and doubles events.

    July 19, 2014

  • Multi-state distracted driving enforcement planned

    Law enforcement agencies in six states plan participate in a weeklong campaign targeting distracted driving.

    July 18, 2014

  • Female guard accused of having sex with juvenile inmate

    A West Virginia Division of Corrections officer has been charged with having sexual contact with a female juvenile inmate at the Lincoln Detention Center in Wheeling.

    July 18, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads