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Huntington Police Department unveils plan to combat violent crimes

By JOSEPHINE MENDEZ

The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Passion and concern were the two main emotions exuding from the roughly dozen community members who spoke Wednesday during a special call Huntington City Council meeting as they asked not only for more action from city officials but also from the citizens of Huntington in light of recent homicides.

Captain Hank Dial of the Huntington Police Department discusses and action plan during a special call meeting for the Huntington City Council to discuss recent violent crimes Wednesday at City Hall in downtown Huntington.
(Herald-Dispatch photo by Sholten Singer)

“If y’all don’t stand up and y’all don’t rise up, y’all might as well sit down and give up,” Toi Wilson told the 40 or so community members and city officials in council chambers. “Y’all want these police officers to do their job. Do your job and help. Call when you got the dope man living next door.”

The purpose of the Wednesday meeting, which was called for Tuesday afternoon, was to share an action plan with the public on how the Huntington Police Department plans to combat the recent string of homicides, mostly drug related, which has resulted in the death of three Huntington residents since the beginning of December.

In this plan, Huntington Police Capt. Hank Dial laid out three strategies the department is prepared to implement moving forward, with the hope of not only addressing these violent crimes but also working toward prevention.

Over the past few weeks, Dial said the detectives in the department’s Violent Crime Unit and Special Investigations Bureau have spent time developing a Violent Crime Prevention/Suppression Initiative.

Through this initiative, a group will be formed from various bureaus that will be assigned extra duties to supplement the detectives in the Violent Crime Unit, Dial said. The officers will be responsible for surveillance, arrests, locations of wanted suspects and prevention of crimes by working intelligence provided by the Violent Crime Unit.

“We can no longer continue to just respond to crime. This initiative will provide a proactive, preventative measure to the hard work our officers are already doing,” Dial said.

Dial said the department is also actively working on addressing the issue of manpower. While HPD has the capability to have up to 103 officers, the force currently sits at 95 officers. Only 89 are deployable, as six of the officers are unavailable due to injuries or military leave.

In an effort to increase their numbers in the immediate future, Dial said the department is reaching out to former and retired officers in addition to ramping up its recruitment effort.

While they are prepared to hire three new officers in January, who will then be sent to the academy, Dial said the recruitment process is lengthy and takes roughly 18 months from start to finish.

In his final point, Dial stressed the importance of maintaining active partnerships with other local, state and federal agencies. He said discussions with the U.S. Attorney’s Office are ongoing concerning the department’s analysis capabilities. Dial said he also met with representatives Wednesday from the Appalachia High Drug Intensity Trafficking Area, the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration on bringing additional federal resources to the city.

Following Dial’s remarks and a quick back-and-forth with council members, where they criticized the department’s recruitment efforts as well as the Cabell-Huntington Health Department’s needle exchange program and the use of Narcan, the next hour of the meeting consisted of more than a dozen residents voicing their concerns about a city that is facing its highest homicide rate.

Republican Cabell County Commission candidate Steve Davis was among the first to speak. He said he had not come to ask more questions of council, but to provide answers.

“The issue that must be solved first is where to put the criminals and the addicted when they are arrested,” he said. “This will be done with the assistance of the governor … Modular units and the National Guard is the quick answer to this.”

Davis echoed Dial’s plea for more officers and said a show of force is crucial in locking up criminals and ensuring more do not return.

While some residents, like Davis, believed an increase in law enforcement was the answer, others believed the answers were rooted in the community’s response.

Wilson, 31, said she was familiar with the two victims killed this week and asked that their deaths serve as a wakeup call to the rest of the community.

“We’ve got all these problems within the community because people within the community are helping aid these problems,” she said. “Everyone wants the police to do something. What are the police going to do if we don’t help them?”

Dial said the department’s anonymous drug and crime tip line, 304-696-4444, is a valuable source used in many investigations.

The public outcry comes on the heels of Huntington’s 18th homicide, which took place Tuesday morning in the city’s Fairfield neighborhood.

Of the 18 homicides, Dial said nine are drug related, five are the result of domestic violence and four are alcohol related.

While the department has been able to make arrests in 13 of the 18 homicides, there continues to be a growing concern from the public as the number of homicides rises.

In the past four months alone, the Police Department has responded to at least two homicides each month.

Although some have been close in proximity, Dial said it is too soon in the investigation to determine if they share a common cause.

See more from The Herald-Dispatch

Related article: Overnight shooting marks city’s 19th homicide

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