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Over coffee, Chief Dial discusses size of force, downtown policing

January 9, 2019
Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial speaks with citizens during "Coffee With a Cop" on Tuesday at Peace, Love & Little Donuts in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — Community members got a chance to have their questions and concerns addressed by the head of the Huntington Police Department with the launch of 2019′s “Coffee With a Cop” forum series Tuesday.

Speaking at Peace, Love & Little Donuts on 3rd Avenue, Police Chief Hank Dial addressed people’s questions involving department staffing, downtown policing and 2018′s positive crime statistics.

The “Coffee With a Cop” forum began in 2015 to let people meet with police in an informal setting, aiming to improve relations between officers and residents. The forums are hosted by the Downtown Huntington Partners and are held about every three months at different locations downtown.

Paul Davis, president of the Downtown Huntington Partners, asked Dial about police staffing, which Dial said has been declining nationwide.

Dial is budgeted to hire 108 officers but currently has 95. He recently hired three new officers who will be sworn in Thursday.

“People often ask me, ‘How can we help?’ ” Dial said. “One way you can help is to help me recruit. This is a good job. The average pay for a police officer that’s been there for a few years is $51,000. That’s their average take-home pay, and that’s not bad for this area.”

He asked anyone who is interested in becoming an officer to contact his office to make the next step. He touted the recently redesigned Huntington Police Department website as one way they are trying to boost recruitment. The website features a promotional video and a call to “be a part of something greater.”

Dial discussed his desire to employ a beat cop assigned specifically for the downtown area. Because of staffing, certain officers are assigned to downtown, but they rotate and don’t have set schedules.

“It is absolutely one of my goals, and it’s part of my plan if I get up to 108 (officers) again,” he said. “I already know who that officer will be, and that officer knows who it will be.”

He also discussed a reduction in crime in 2018, which saw a 21 percent reduction in violent crime, a 50 percent reduction in the homicide rate and property crime falling by 13.5 percent.

“We say that’s moving in the right direction, but we realize we still have work to do and we realize there’s more to be accomplished,” he said.

Anna and Jesse Lewis, of the Altizer neighborhood, attended the forum because they wanted to meet the chief, who could give them a perspective on what police are doing to combat drugs and other crimes.

Anna Lewis asked Dial what officers are doing to combat mental health issues, which often are coupled with drug addiction. Dial said his department is in contact with mental health professionals who are deployed when officers encounter someone who needs help. These professionals often accompany officers to scenes where drugs are reported and in instances where arresting the individual won’t solve the problem, he said.

Travis Crum Is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.

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