Interview with Andrew Garcia: Martinsburg Police Officer
Martinsburg, West Virginia: What comes to mind the moment you read those words? Is it the fact that the very first United States Post Office ever was established here in 1792? Is it the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad reaching us in 1842? Is it the Great Railroad Strike of 1877 taking place in Martinsburg? Or maybe it’s the elite football program at Martinsburg High School, with 4 State Championships and 2 undefeated seasons (I’m a little biased, I went to Martinsburg so sorry other schools in the area).
Unfortunately, when it comes to Martinsburg, a lot of people think of a lot of other things, whether that be the rampant drug problem, the burglaries or strip clubs, or even the crime rate (even though statistics show that crime has actually gone down in the following years). A lot of the bad light in Martinsburg can be attributed to the to the significant population increase. In fact, the population of Martinsburg was 17,227 at the 2010 census, making it the largest city in the Eastern Panhandle and the ninth-largest municipality in the state. That could be due to an influx of people, due to the low living rates, or due to giant companies like Proctor & Gamble opening plants in Martinsburg. It’s gotten to the point where people have coined Martinsburg with terms like “Little Baltimore” due to its comparison to drugs and more.
Heroin & Opioids have become a big problem in the state of West Virginia, and Martinsburg has been no exception. According to Kevin Knowles, Berkeley Community Recovery Services Coordinator.“We received the year-end statistics for 2016. There were 57 overdoses for December and a total of 577 for the year,” Knowles said. “In 2016, there was 516 administrations of Narcan. That’s more than double of what we have seen in the past. It was up from 250 in 2015.” According to Stop Overdose.Org, Narcan™ (naloxone) is an opiate antidote. Opioids include heroin and prescription pain pills like morphine, codeine, oxycodone, methadone, and Vicodin. When a person is overdosing on an opioid, breathing can slow down or stop and it can very hard to wake them from this state. Narcan™ (naloxone) is a prescription medicine that blocks the effects of opioids and reverses an overdose.
I’ve decided to interview someone who is very close to the problem, someone who has seen the change in the city of Martinsburg. Andrew “Drew” Garcia has been a resident of Martinsburg for the past eight years. He comes from Maryland where he grew up in both Baltimore City and Frederick County. He served five years in the Marine Corps as an electronics technician, earning the rank of sergeant before leaving. He has now worked for the last nine years as a municipal police officer and holds the rank of corporal.
In his spare time, Drew has volunteered as a youth leader in various churches working with children of all ages. He has a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership from Mountain State University and a Master of Arts in Biblical Counseling through Summit University (formerly Baptist Bible College). He is married with four children, ages 22, 18, 7, and 3. Drew has been described by others on the board as being determined and motivated. The interview below: (for the sake of the interview, I will be initialed as M, and Andrew will be labeled with A.
M: Hey Andrew, thanks for taking your time to speak to me, I’m really excited to speak to you and get some information, this will be more of a question-answer format, as I want you to really express how you feel and what you’ve seen. Let me start off on a positive note, as my intro may make people think that I don’t have hope for Martinsburg, which I def do. I love this town and I hope to see it grow in a better light.
A: Thanks, M. I really appreciate your time in helping people get to know me and what it is we are doing in Martinsburg Renew. I may not be from this city, but I certainly do love it and have seen so much potential in it in the last nine-and-a-half years I’ve lived here.
M: So let’s start off with an easy one, I know in the excerpt above we mentioned you were a police officer. What made you decide to go that route, and what specifically brought you to Martinsburg?
A: When I was in the Marines, I was a troubleshooter. I was presented with a problem and took to looking into various manuals, conferring with other technicians, and relying on training and experience to find a solution. After my first five-year contract was up, there was an opportunity to do what’s called a lateral move (essentially changing jobs in the Marines) to a Criminal Investigator. This intrigued me since I saw it as an opportunity to combine my troubleshooting and people skills. I’ve always been a people person. Things fell through and I ended up getting out after that first contract; I know God had different plans for me and my family. I began looking for police work as soon as I got out. Being from Baltimore we wanted a lower cost of living, so I began looking in western Maryland and the Eastern Panhandle. When my wife and I first visited Martinsburg, we loved the combination of old structure and newer businesses. We could tell it was a budding city. We were already focusing on Martinsburg when I got hit with the news that my decision as a teenager to smoke marijuana had disqualified me from law enforcement in Maryland. Again, God directing me specifically to Martinsburg.
M: What about Martinsburg makes you stay? There are plenty of other places, I mean you could drive 40 minutes and be in Loudon County, what makes you stay in WV?
A: Jen and I have talked about moving. But we feel that we are invested in Martinsburg. I feel in every sense that Martinsburg is my city. We live here, we shop here, our kids go to school here, and I work to protect the communities and other community members. Like I said, I see a lot of potentials in the city and in Berkeley County and I would love to see Martinsburg reach its full potential. I feel that I could be a catalyst for the necessary changes.
M: Ok let’s dig into this some more, you’ve been in this area for a long time. What changes have you seen?
A: I’ve seen lots of growth in Martinsburg and in the area. I watched the Gallery and Martinsburg Station developments grow. I saw the north end grow with woods being cleared, buildings being erected, and roads being built. I’ve seen the infrastructure change as the Raleigh Street project came to completion. I’ve seen multiple elected officials come and go. I’ve also seen quite a few of these officials simply stay stagnate as well.
M: Positive changes?
A: I’ve seen a lot of younger and newer faces enter politics who have a passion for changing our area and moving it in a more progressive direction. Some of them won the elections while others did not. I still hope that those who did not get elected keep striving for their place in government, though. People like Marshall Wilson, Kevin Knowles, Bill Norris, Stephen Skinner, Jason Barrett, Christy Santana, Jill Upson, Sammi Brown, Riley Moore, Catie Delligatti, David Manthos, Cory Simpson, Ralph Lorenzetti, Steve Redding, Tia Demedici, Winchester Hopkins, and David Haarberg. I have also seen many people within the community step up to make effective changes. There are a lot of smaller organizations that are also trying to help different segments of the population. There is the Hope Dealer Project, Church Without Walls Ministries, Faith Community Coalition for the Homeless, and Community Alternatives to Violence to name a few. I’ve watched some grow from the start and some expand since I first got here.
M: What would you say is the biggest problem right now?
A: I find that pride keeps communities from really getting to where they need to be. With community members, you get a lot of the NIMBY (Not In My BackYard) mentality. A lot of people are either ignorant of the true problems in the area or refuse to accept that there are problems and therefore stand up to any projects set out to help people, more specifically the drug addicted. With pride comes the reluctance to coordinate with other like-minded organizations because people put themselves or their name or their organization before the cause; they want to be that organization or that person that single-handedly changed the world. With pride comes the unwillingness to work with other government entities, whether it is between agencies like city and county or “across the aisle.” As the Bible warns, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” We need to get together and attack society’s problems on multiple fronts. We need to address the issues of homelessness, drug addiction, poverty, racism, hungry children. sick children, alcoholism, recidivism, and wayward communities. But we need to do it on a united front.
M: That’s powerful, what advice would you give any person or families struggling with a drug addiction or just problems in general?
First of all, they need to know that they are not the first, nor the only ones, going through whatever it is. Like the tidbit in Ecclesiastes tells us, “there is nothing new under the sun.” The second is to find support. Find someone who has overcome your same plight. Seek out organizations that deal with the problems you’re going through. Cut out the negative influences. It’s going to take sucking up your pride. Either in admitting you have an issue, or that there is a loved one with a problem. None of us are perfect, but all of us are salvageable.
M: Lastly, any final thoughts or words? I really appreciate you taking out the time of your day to speak to me.
A: I really see a lot of hurting people in Martinsburg and all over the world. I also see a lot of potential. I can’t do this alone. We can’t wait on the government or another community to step in and save us. We need to rise up together as a community, pick ourselves and each other up by the boot straps and attack social problems together as a community. No one is coming to save us; we need to save ourselves.
Martinsburg Renew is a non-profit organization that hopes to enrich every member of our community. We are focusing on educating and offering opportunities for those involved with addictions. We want to offer opportunities to our youth to offer stable, positive role models and offer them alternative recreational activities to keep them actively involved in enriching themselves.
Our first project is a major undertaking. We hope to raise enough money and grants to purchase the Interwoven Mills facility, which is located on the 600 block of W. King St. and extends south of W. John St., and establish a Community Center. We are currently seeking funds and grants to put toward the purchasing of the Mills as well as to hold community events. If we are unable to raise enough funds within a reasonable amount of time, any money will be donated to other community-oriented non-profits. If you are interested in helping out, please donate here.
If you or someone you love is battling a drug or alcohol addiction, calling a helpline is the first step to obtaining help and counseling. A supportive and understanding agent will answer any questions you might have, discuss the different types of treatments available and help you take the next steps toward recovery. When it seems impossible to overcome your drug addiction on your own, a number we found is 1-888-503-9899.
We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. If you have any thoughts, please reach out to 1-800-273-8255
* I do not want anyone to read this and think it’s all negative about Martinsburg, as you can see above we have a lot of appreciation and love for this town. We are just not shy about tackling the problems and bringing up discussion about issues that need to be spoken about.