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Local police shift focus to property crime

HUNTINGTON — As the city of Huntington continues to reduce the high violent crime rates from 2017, Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial says police hope to soon put a new focus on property crime, which is on the rise.

Statistics released for the first half of the year show reports of violent crimes — aggravated assault, forcible rape, murder and robbery — continue to decrease. A total of 138 violent crimes were reported in the first half of 2019, whereas 184 were reported in the same time frame the year before.

Dial said although the numbers are decreasing, he is aware of what they could be.

"Our officers have been working diligently to reduce violent crime throughout the city," he said. "Having achieved a good bit of success in that area, we can focus even more on property and nuisance crimes now."

The department's data show that 1,082 property crimes have been reported so far in 2019, compared with 1,060 in the same period the year before.

While he was not ready to discuss the project in depth, Dial said he has been working with officers to create a plan for better police response to reports of people living in abandoned structures, which he thinks has a direct correlation to an increase in larceny and arson in the city.

By the numbers

By June 30 in 2018, seven murders were reported in Huntington. That number has dropped to two in the first half of 2019, but Dial noted another homicide investigation could make that number increase by one as the investigation continues. No arrest has been made in the murder cases, but Dial said the investigations are promising.

Homicide is defined as one person killing another, criminal or not, while murder means a criminal action took place in the killing.

Aggravated assault dropped from 75 in 2018 to 72 in 2019, while forcible rape reports fell from 38 to 33. Reported robberies dropped by more than 50% in the same time frame, from 64 in 2018 to 31 in 2019.

In 2017, 83 aggravated assaults were reported, 24 forcible rapes, five murders and 71 robberies. In 2016, 76 aggravated assaults were reported, 31 forcible rapes, six murders and 67 robberies.

For the entire year of 2018, Huntington saw 2,615 violent crime cases reported, compared with 3,025 in 2017.

Dial said the large drop in robberies this year is a direct correlation to a successful battle on the drug trade, but it also had to do with changes implemented in spring 2018 in which the Cabell-Huntington Health Department stopped allowing those without a Cabell County address to use the syringe exchange in the county's Harm Reduction Program.

In contrast to violent crimes, property crimes — arson, burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft — increased in the first half of the year.

Arson rose from eight reported in the first half of 2018 to 15 in 2019, while larceny increased from 707 to 724. Motor vehicle theft also increased, from 97 to 117. Reported burglaries decreased from 248 to 226.

In 2017, nine arsons were reported, 335 burglaries, 813 larcenies and 115 motor vehicle thefts. In 2016, 16 arsons were reported, 492 burglaries, 1,071 larcenies and 81 motor vehicle thefts.

Transient criminals are suspected of being responsible for several of the arsons and larcenies.

Dial said the police department, which works closely with Huntington fire marshal Matt Winters, has "quite a bit" of evidence being processed right now, which he thinks could lead to prosecution of people suspected of "traditional" arson cases in which someone is purposely setting structures on fire.

Increase in property crime

The increase in property crimes can be directly linked to transient people living in abandoned houses, Dial said. Some people facing homelessness will break into boarded-up homes to live before stealing things from the house and sometimes even setting the home on fire.

The Huntington-Cabell-Wayne Continuum of Care said a January 2019 count showed a population of 171 homeless people in the two counties, which is down from 190 counted in 2018 and 205 counted in 2017. Dial said police aren't necessarily seeing an increase in the homeless population, but they are seeing an increase in crime connected to the population.

Police also are seeing a trend of cars being reported stolen after vagrants remove seemingly abandoned vehicles from these abandoned properties and turn them in for scrap metal.

Dial said police are noticing three types of motor vehicle theft: somebody leaves their keys in their car and someone else takes it; the vehicle was given to a drug dealer as part of a drug trade; or people who take abandoned cars and turn it in for scrap metal.

While the city has an ordinance restricting the time a car can be parked on a city street to 48 hours, these vehicles are parked legally on a home's property.

"What we're seeing and what we're hearing is a lot more criminals in vacant and abandoned houses, and that's why we're going to direct our efforts toward that in hopes of turning this property crime trend back down," Dial said. "And that's what we look at. We look at the criminal behavior, and we look at criminals. What your socioeconomic status is doesn't concern us."

Vacant, abandoned structures

As violent crime rates go down in the city, officers can dedicate more time to the nonviolent side of crime that has been plaguing the city. Dial said the department is working on developing a patrol unit whose job it will be to concentrate on the criminal behavior of those breaking into abandoned houses.

"This directive patrol will be checking when we get 911 calls. We will also be looking at the registered vacant house (registry) that we have in Huntington, and we'll be going to those and checking those," he said. "And to be clear, we're investigating the criminal behavior."

Huntington is in the midst of a campaign to tear down more than 100 dilapidated properties, with more than half already being completed, which Dial said could help with the issue. There are 400 abandoned or vacant structures on the unsafe building commission list overall that the police will focus on.

Dial said he expected to release more information about the initiative soon.

Victory flag far from being flown

Dial said the reduction in violent crime stemmed from united investigations by HPD's Special Investigations Bureau and patrol officers to continue the Violent Crime Initiative created by Sgt. Shane Bills and Sgt. Paul Hunter in response to the 2017 uptick in crime.

"They do this day in and day out," he said. "They are constantly investigating criminals, arresting criminals and putting them in jail. Any one of these elements, without them, none of the initiatives would work."

Dial said the department's renewed partnerships with the FBI, West Virginia Fusion Center, Appalachia High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force, ATF, DEA, Homeland Security and U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart's office also play a direct factor in the reduction of violent crime.

A representative from the West Virginia Fusion Center is working in the police headquarters to help build the department's intel capabilities to investigate criminals, he said. A heightened federal prosecution of crime also has helped.

He said Huntington has had a 76% increase in the number of guns the Special Investigations Bureau has confiscated during drug raids because of the partnerships.

"So we're taking more criminals off the street and more drugs off the street, and that's been going on for a couple of years now," he said. "But now you can add on a significant increase in the number of illegal guns in the hands of prohibited individuals that we are getting off the street."

Dial knows the violent crime rate is directly connected to the drug trade, and federal partnerships make investigations easier. He said they allow the department to increase their capability to combat the drug trade and increase intel capacities, all resulting in the reduction in violent crime.

"We're well on our way to meeting those goals, but we still have more violent crime than we should because we still have violent crime," he said. "We haven't completely eliminated it, but what we're doing is trending well."

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.

"Our officers have been working diligently to reduce violent crime throughout the city. Having achieved a good bit of success in that area, we can focus even more on property and nuisance crimes now." — Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial


Excessive heat warning issued as heat wave hits Tri-State

HUNTINGTON — The mercury continued its climb upward in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave around the Tri-State and other parts of the country Saturday.

Many places throughout the U.S. have seen temperatures hovering around and above the mid-90s in recent days, creating potentially dangerous conditions for citizens.

According to a report by The Associated Press, the National Weather Service said "a dangerous heat wave" sent temperatures into the 90s, with high humidity that made it feel considerably hotter. As the AP reported, the Midwest will get some relief Sunday as a cold front brings storms and lower temperatures, but the East won't be so lucky until Monday, the weather service warned. The heat will be the worst from the Carolinas to Maine.

The NWS issued an excessive heat warning throughout West Virginia, lasting that prolonged periods of time spenting until 8 p.m. Saturday, warning residents in the hot temperatures and high humidity could lead to potentially dangerous heat stress and illnesses.

Stephanie Howell, a Huntington resident and executive director of Little Victories Animal Rescue, and other volunteers did not let the high temperatures and uncomfortable conditions dissuade them from heading downtown Saturday to walk

rescued dogs, hoping to find them a home.

However, because of the high temperatures, dogs generally cannot stay outside for such long periods of time due to increased risks of exhaustion, overheating and dehydration, as well as the potential for paw-pads to be be injured when walking on surfaces like concrete and blacktop, she said.

"This heat wave has been really tough for the people and the animals," Howell said.

Mathew Soupramanien, who is visiting Huntington from France while working at a car factory in the state, also took to the streets downtown Saturday in spite of the excessive heat in search of a place to eat brunch.

Soupramanien said he is from a small island in France where temperatures are generally rather high, but the recent heat wave has come in tandem with a much more tangible humidity.

"We have some heat waves in France, but it never feels this humid," he said. "The humidity here is really high, so you can feel the pressure and are always sweaty."

Despite recent record-breaking temperatures in France, Soupramanien said he thinks many French people would be shocked by the current conditions in West Virginia.

"I ran in Ritter Park this morning, and it was incredible," Sourpramanien said. "For other French people, I think (the weather) would be an unbelievable experience."

According to a CNN article last month, temperatures in France recently reached record-breaking heights amid an intense heat wave throughout Europe, as the French national weather service Meteo-France reported temperatures as high as 114.6 degrees Fahrenheit in southern parts of the country.

According to the National Weather Service, the heat index in parts of West Virginia on Saturday likely reached values of up to 107 degrees, with temperatures hovering around the mid-90s, as has been common in recent days.

The weather service urged residents to take extra precautions like being aware of signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and strokes, wearing light and loose clothing, drinking plenty of water, taking more breaks than normal in shaded or cooler environments, checking on friends and family and potentially rescheduling certain plans and events that require strenuous activity. Individuals are also encouraged to never leave children or pets unattended in vehicles, as car interiors often reach potentially lethal temperatures within minutes.

As a result of Saturday's excessive heat warning, local organizations and programs like Harmony House's First Steps Wellness and Recovery Center and the Huntington City Mission Chapel opened their doors to residents wanting to escape the heat, offering cold drinks and air conditioning to all.


H-D to end its Monday print edition
News and pages will still be available online

HUNTINGTON — Starting Aug. 5, The Herald-Dispatch will cease publishing a print edition on Mondays, but it will continue to have an online news and advertising presence on that day.

The Herald-Dispatch will continue to publish a Monday edition, but the news in it will be available only online, at www.heralddispatch.com, through the newspaper's apps and in the electronic edition, which shows readers replicas of print pages in a clickable digital format.

The move does not affect print publication of The Herald-Dispatch during the rest of the week.

"Many papers across the country, including the Charleston Gazette-Mail, have gone through this transition," said HD Media Publisher Jim Heady. "It was a difficult decision to make, but we felt it was the best way to reduce expenses without hurting the integrity of The Herald-Dispatch.

"This change will give us the ability to better position ourselves, where we can continue to provide the best content and service to our readers and advertisers," Heady added.

Last week, it was reported that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will publish in print just three days a week, after last year reducing its print editions from seven days a week to five days a week.

All paid seven-day subscribers to The Herald-Dispatch should have access to the newspaper's website and its electronic edition if they have established a username and password. If they have not, or have difficulty getting logged in to the website, they can call the Customer Service Department at 304-526-4005 for assistance.

Home delivery rates will remain the same in relation to this move.

Hours for the Customer Service Department, at 304-526-4005, are 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 6 to 10 a.m. Saturday and 6 to 11 a.m. Sunday.


Nation marks 50 years after Apollo 11's 'giant leap' on moon

CAPE CANAVER AL, Fla. — A moonstruck nation celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11's "giant leap" by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin at parties, races, ball games and concerts Saturday, toasting with Tang and gobbling MoonPies.

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Aldrin showed Vice President Mike Pence the launch pad where he flew to the moon in 1969. At the same time halfway around the world, an American and two other astronauts blasted into space on a Russian rocket. And in Armstrong's hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio, nearly 2,000 runners competed in "Run to the Moon" races.

"Apollo 11 is the only event in the 20th century that stands a chance of being widely remembered in the 30th century," the vice president said.

Wapakoneta 10K runner Robert Rocco, 54, a retired Air Force officer from Centerville, Ohio, called the moon landing by Armstrong and Aldrin "perhaps the most historic event in my lifetime, maybe in anybody's lifetime."

At the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Gilda Warden sat on a bench and gazed in awe at the Apollo 11 command module, Columbia, on display. "It's like entering the Sistine Chapel and seeing the ceiling. You want to just sit there and take it in," said Warden, 63, a psychiatric nurse from Tacoma, Washington.

On July 20, 1969, Armstrong and Aldrin undocked from Columbia in lunar orbit and then descended in the lunar module Eagle to the Sea of Tranquility. The Eagle landed with just 17 seconds of fuel to spare. Six hours later, Armstrong was the first to step onto the lunar surface, proclaiming for the ages: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." It was humanity's first footsteps on another world.

In a speech at Kennedy, Pence paid tribute to Armstrong, Aldrin and command module pilot Michael Collins — if they're not heroes, "then there are no heroes" — as well as the 400,000

Americans who worked tirelessly to get them to the moon.

Aldrin, 89, grabbed the right hand of Neil Armstrong's older son. Rick, at Pence's mention of heroes. He then stood and saluted, and received a standing ovation. Armstrong died in 2012. Collins, 88, did not attend the Florida ceremony. But Apollo 17's Harrison Schmitt, the next-to-last man to walk on the moon in 1972, was there.

Pence reiterated the Trump administration's goal of sending American astronauts back to the moon within five years and eventually on to Mars. He said this next generation of astronauts will spend weeks and months on the lunar surface, not just days and hours like the 12 Apollo moonwalkers did. Alongside the stage was the newly completed Orion capsule that will fly to the moon and back, on a test flight without a crew, in another year or two.

NASA had other celebrations going on Saturday, most notably at Johnson Space Center in Houston, home to Mission Control; the U.S. Space and Rocket Center next door to Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where the Saturn V moon rockets were born; and the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

And where better to celebrate than Apollo, Pennsylvania — located in Armstrong County not far from Moon Township and the town of Mars. The historical society revived the annual moon-landing celebration in honor of the big 50. All of the Apollo astronauts have long been honorary citizens of Apollo, the society's Alan Morgan said.

At New York's Yankee Stadium, former space shuttle astronaut Mike Massimino threw out the ceremonial first pitch to former pitcher Jack Aker, who was on the mound when the July 20, 1969, baseball game was interrupted to announce that the Eagle had landed. Armstrong and Aldrin were "A1, No. 1, higher than major league," Aker recalled Saturday. "It's a mutual feeling," Massimino agreed.

Across the country in Seattle, Tim Turner was first in line Saturday to see Columbia, the mother ship piloted by Collins as Armstrong and Aldrin moon-walked.

"Good grief! It's still amazing, the No. 1 feat of the 20th century, if not all of modern history, that first time there," said Turner, 57, a computer programmer from sbo, Washington.

As he waited to get in to sec Columbia, Craig Smith, 58, a veterinarian from Tacoma, Washington, recalled thinking as a boy: "'Dang! Seriously? A dude on the moon?' I thought that was nifty."

Clocks all over counted down to the exact moment of the Eagle's landing on the moon — 4:17 p.m. EDT — and Armstrong's momentous step onto the lunar surface at 10:56 p.m. EDT. The powdered orange drink Tang was back in vogue for the toasts, along with marsh-mallow and chocolate Moon-Pies, including a 55-pound, 45,000-caloric MoonPie at Kennedy's One Giant Leap bash.

About 100 visitors and staff at the American Space Museum in Titusvillc, across the Indian River from Kennedy, cheered and lifted plastic champagne glasses of Tang at the moment of touchdown.

"This is what we're here for, to share the American space experience," explained executive director Karan Conklin, who led the toast.

For the late-night crowd, "first step" concerts were on tap at the Kennedy Center in Washington, outside in the shadow of a replica Saturn V rocket in Huntsville, and other sweltering locales.

A real rocket lit up the night sky in Kazakhstan.

Blasting off aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket in 100-degree heat, American Andrew Morgan, Italian Luca Parmitano and Russian Alexander Skvortsov flew to the International Space Station. Only Skvortsov was alive at the time of Apollo 11. The three already living on the space station also were born long after the moon landings.

The crew deliberately modeled its mission patch after Apollo 11's: no astronaut names included to show the universal nature of space flight. Morgan explained in a NASA interview that Apollo 11, and now his flight, represents "an accomplishment of the world and not one single country."