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Huntington police get back to the streets

HUNTINGTON — As Huntington's violent crime rate continues to decrease, Huntington police officers are slowly starting to get back to the streets in an effort to reduce other types of offenses, such as property and street-level crimes.

In a letter sent to downtown Huntington businesses, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams said the city is working toward a solution to remove criminals from the streets: "Through ongoing discussion that (Huntington Police Chief Hank) Dial and I have had with property owners, business owners and social service agencies, the police department is also working with the Cabell County Sheriff's Department and various federal partners on a more comprehensive approach in removing criminals from the streets."

Dial said the effort is currently threefold. Officers are now going to vacant structures where individuals are trespassing and dealing with property crimes head-on; a foot and bike patrol also has started in the downtown and Marshall University areas, with one goal being to reduce loitering and panhandling; and Dial is working with

federal and local agencies on another project to curb crime, as well.

The effort comes as Huntington bounces back from 2017, when the city saw one of the highest violent crime rates in its history. The rate dropped 21% in all of 2018. It has again dropped another 25% in the first six months of 2019, compared with the same time period in 2018.

Dial said during the past two years, police have had to place their focus on responding to, investigating and preventing violent crime, but the dropping rate gives police leeway to now focus in other areas.

"Huntington is a compassionate city, but our compassion cannot go to the point we allow our businesses and our city to be victimized by criminals who are wandering the street," he said. "It absolutely will not be tolerated."

Dial said the new changes started earlier this year with a "direct patrol" of officers in teams of two who go out into the community several times a week into abandoned houses and clear them out, making arrests when appropriate.

"You know it's illegal to camp on someone's property," he said. "You can't just be on this property even if it's not used and the owners aren't there. We want them to call us. We want them to work with us."

The department also has implemented a two-person patrol — which will switch between being on foot or on bike — to watch downtown and Marshall areas as needed. For now, the patrol will be just part time. The officers are paid through salary and sometimes overtime, he said.

The bike patrol has been used on occasion and as needed throughout the city the past few years, but not to the level Dial would like.

"I don't want to sound like I'm saying that we have a bike patrol like we used to," he said. "Because it's not to that level yet."

Dial said he hopes to be able to have a full-time bike unit after restructuring within the department next year.

Bill Bissett, president and CEO of the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce, said he had received positive feedback about the effort from the chamber's downtown members, who have already noticed change. He said Williams directly communicating to the downtown businesses that their complaints were being heard was important.

"This is an issue we have seen growing slowly over a period of time, more in visibility perhaps than numbers, and it's good to see (law enforcement) react to it," he said. "Obviously we want to treat these people with compassion, but also we want to have people to be able to run their business in downtown Huntington."

The next item on the agenda for the police is working with the Cabell County Sheriff's Department, West Virginia State Police and U.S. Marshals Service for a plan to address "the criminal element hiding in this community and living on the streets." Dial would not release Wednesday any additional information about that effort for "tactical reasons."

Dial said Huntington police have been working with the Cabell County Sheriffs Department, West Virginia State Police and the Ironton, Ashland, Milton and Barboursville police departments to come up with a way to alleviate the issues and to compare notes about repeat offenders seen in each of the three counties.

"We are seeing the exact same issues with many of the same people," he said. "I do know that these folks aren't indigenous to the city of Huntington, and that's why we're working with the U.S. Marshals Office and some of our federal partners on these issues because they're crossing state lines and committing these crimes. There's no doubt about it."

The department also has received input from the businesses, social service providers, various congregations and residents on the subject. Dial continuously praised those partnerships as directly affecting the department's operations.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHessler-HD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.


Plant saved by laid-off workers celebrates year of new ownership

APPLE GROVE, W.Va. — When the Apple Grove polymer plant shuttered in October 2017, its laid-off employees volunteered their time to save it.

About 16 employees stayed behind to cool down reactors, safely dispose of chemicals and get the facility ready for winter. They did it all without the promise of a paycheck and without knowing if the plant would ever reopen. They said doing so was worth more than saving their jobs — it was about saving their community.

Their efforts were celebrated Saturday as the plant, now called APG Polytech, celebrated its first year

under its new owners, Far Eastern New Century (Far Eastern Group). Employees and their families gathered at the Mason County, West Virginia, plant for a picnic and a fair, which included bounce houses, a mechanical bull and a Ferris wheel.

Seeing all the families together helped put into perspective how much the plant means to the Apple Grove community, said Richard Maack, manufacturing site manager. He helped lead laidoff employees during the plant's downturn, maintaining it and making it attractive to potential buyers.

"I told them, 'If you do nothing else in your pathetic life, know that you've done something very special here,'" Maack said. "'You have done something very special, not only for yourself and your families, but the families and the communities around us.'"

The plant was previously owned by M&G Chemicals, which was working to expand to a manufacturing plant in Corpus Christi, Texas. However, plans for the new plant became billions of dollars over budget, requiring the company to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The plant makes "virgin plastic," which is sold and later shaped into products like soda bottles and food packaging.

The plant was closed Oct. 24, 2017, weeks after M&G declared bankruptcy. Employees were paid until midnight that day and were instructed to lock up the facility and leave, Maack said. About 130 employees instantly became unemployed. Through a restructuring firm, about 16 employees negotiated to stay behind and maintain the facility in hopes a new buyer would be found.

"We had to make bankruptcy court aware this wasn't like shutting down a Kmart," he said.

When a team from the Taiwan-based Far Eastern Group visited the facility, they were impressed by the employees' dedication, said Hermia Tsai, legal counsel for the office of the company's president.

"At that time we had made up our minds — we are going to get this place" Tsai said.

Far Eastern Group became the successful bidder for the facility and closed the deal in March 2018. Since then they have installed new equipment, introduced some new technology and worked to improve the production process, she said. Thanks to the employees' dedication, the plant only needed about four months to become fully operational again.

When the Far Eastern Group began rehiring laid-off workers, approximately 97% returned to their old jobs. Many of those employees had already started new jobs, said Jeff Fowler, human relations director. Employees have returned with a new sense of purpose, realizing how important their work is to the community around them.

"Every day I try to just take a minute and just look around and realize what we've done, and it's just a good feeling," he said.

Goodyear Tire & Rubber opened the plant in 1952, before Shell Chemical Co. bought it in 1992. It was then purchased by M&G Chemicals in 2000 before the company filed for bankruptcy. M&G Chemicals still operates manufacturing plants in several countries, according to its website.

Far Eastern Group is headquartered in Taipei, Taiwan, and has production plants in China, Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. Forbes magazine ranks the company at No. 1,560 in the list of the 2,000 largest companies in the world.

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


Sexual assault reported at MU

HUNTINGTON — A Marshall University student told officials she believed she was sexually assaulted Thursday inside an on-campus residence hall, school officials said Friday.

The suspect is known to the student and an investigation is ongoing, according to a news release issued by the university. The female student reported the alleged sexual assault to the Marshall University Office of Public Safety on Thursday.

Public universities are required to report sexual assaults in accordance with the federal Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act.

University officials said in the release that it is a violation of university policy to engage in sexual activities without affirmative consent from a partner, and noted that someone incapacitated due to alcohol or drugs cannot consent to sexual activity.

A student in violation of university policies faces sanctions up to and including expulsion.

Anyone who believes they have been a victim of a sexual offense is encouraged to immediately contact campus police at 304-696-4357 or the Huntington Police Department at 911 or 304-696-4470.

School officials say victims of any form of sexual assault are encouraged to seek support and can obtain information from the Women's Center at 304-696-3338 or through CONTACT Rape Crisis Center at 304-399-1111.

Incoming freshmen began moving into their dorms at Marshall on Tuesday, while upperclassmen began moving in Saturday. Classes for the fall semester begin Monday, Aug. 26.


Economic clouds hovering over Trump, world leaders

BIARRITZ, France — Under the threatening clouds of a global economic slowdown, President Donald Trump is confronting the consequences of his preference to go it alone, with low expectations that the leaders of the richest democracies can make substantive progress on an array of issues at their summit in France.

The meeting of the Group of Seven nations — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the U.S. — in the beach resort town of Biarritz comes at one of the most unpredictable moments in Trump's presidency, when his public comments and decision-making increasingly have seemed erratic and acerbic of late.

Trump, who arrived Saturday, and his counterparts are facing mounting anxiety over the state of the world economy and new tension on trade, Iran and Russia. Trump, growing more isolated in Washington, might find a tepid reception at the summit as calls increase for cooperation and a collective response to address the financial downturn. White House aides claimed he engineered a late change to the summit agenda, requesting a working session on economic issues.

The economic warning signs, along with Chinese's aggressive use of tariffs on U.S. goods, are raising the pressure on Trump and his reelection effort. He intends to push allies at the summit to act to promote growth.

But Trump's credibility as a cheerleader for multilateralism is in doubt, given that he has spent the first 2 1/2 years in office promoting an "America First" foreign policy that relies on protectionist measures. Traditional American allies have come to expect the unexpected from this White House; increasingly they are looking elsewhere for leadership.

Only hours before his arrival in Biarritz, Trump had threatened anew to place tariffs on French wine imports to the U.S. in a spat over France's digital services tax; the European Union promised to retaliate. That was the backdrop for a late addition to his summit schedule — a two-hour lunch with French President Emmanuel Macron outside the opulent Hotel du Palais.

The summit host said the two men were discussing "a

lot of crisis" around the world, including Libya, Iran and Russia, as well as trade policy and climate change. But he also echoed Trump's calls for Europe to do more to address the global slowdown, including by cutting taxes. "When I look at Europe, especially, we need some new tools to relaunch our economy," Macron said.

Trump insisted that despite tensions, he and Macron "actually have a lot in common" and a "special relationship." In a later tweet, he said: "Big weekend with other world leaders!"

Macron outlined details of a French plan to ease tensions with Iran by allowing Iran to export oil for a limited amount of time, said a French diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with the presidency's customary practices. In exchange, Iran would need to fully put in place the 2015 nuclear deal, reduce tensions in the Persian Gulf and open talks. The plan was met with a skeptical reception by Trump, and the White House paid only a cursory mention of the Gulf in its official readout of the lunch meeting.

In recent days, Trump has sent mixed signals on a number of policy fronts. At one point, he moved to simmer the trade conflict with China in order to ease the impact on American consumers during the holiday shopping season. At another, he flip-flopped on the need for tax cuts to stimulate an economy that Trump publicly insists is rocketing.

Feeding TYump's anxiety, aides say, is his realization that the economy—the one sturdy pillar undergirding his bid for a second term — is undeniably wobbly.

Trump planned to press leaders about what can be done to spur growth in the U.S. and abroad, as well as to open European, Japanese and Canadian markets to American manufacturers and producers. Trump has imposed or threatened to impose tariffs on all three markets in his pursuit of free, fair and reciprocal trade.

The annual G-7 summit has historically been used to highlight common ground among the world's leading democracies. But in a bid to work around Trump's impulsiveness, Macron has eschewed plans for a formal joint statement from this gathering.

Addressing the global slowdown isn't the only pressing challenge that Trump has discovered requires joint action.

For more than a year, his administration has struggled with persuading European leaders to repatriate captured fighters from the Islamic State group. So far his entreaties have fallen on deaf ears.

Many of the summit proceedings will take place behind closed doors, in intimate settings designed for the leaders to develop personal relationships with one another. On Saturday night they dined at the Biarritz lighthouse, with commanding views of the Bay of Biscay.

Trump, White House aides said, was looking forward to a Sunday morning meeting with new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the brash pro-Brex-it leader whose election he'd backed. The two spoke by phone on Friday, and Johnson said Saturday he would use the meeting to push Trump to de-escalate the American trade war with China.

Trump has scheduled individual meetings with several of his counterparts, including Macron, Trudeau, Merkel, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.