HUNTINGTON — As Huntington Police Chief Hank Dial clears his office to move a few blocks down the road to Huntington City Hall next week, Capt. Ray Cornwell says it will remain business as usual at the Huntington Police Department headquarters.
The 23-year Huntington police veteran will become interim police chief Monday as Dial moves into the position of Huntington city manager after serving as the city’s police chief for nearly three years, following three decades of working as an officer with HPD.
Cornwell has worked as the senior captain, essentially being Dial’s “second-hand man,” during Dial’s time as chief.
“We aren’t losing Hank Dial at all. He’s just moving across the street,” Cornwell said. “I’ve worked hand-in-hand with Dial for the 20 years I’ve worked here, and I will continue to work with him and talk to him every day.”
Dial took over the department during the height of one of Huntington’s deadliest and most violent years since the 1980s. Under his tenure, Dial and the Huntington police worked to lower the violent crime rate and increase the city’s drug task force activity to combat the opioid epidemic.
Cornwell has served as captain since 2013, and said he oversees about two-thirds of the department while overseeing the uniformed patrol bureau. He will continue his duties as captain, while also serving in Dial’s vacant position.
“I’m excited to try to keep the momentum going that we have,” he said. “We have some good things going and are moving in a positive direction, and I’m really interested in trying to keep that going.
“I’ve worked hand-in-hand with Chief Dial every day for the past two years, Chief (Joe) Ciccarelli before him and Chief (Skip) Holbrook before that. This is a role that I’ve done several times before as an active chief. It’s nothing really different. I’m just glad to have the opportunity to serve in that capacity.”
The search for a new police chief can take up to six months. The process for finding a new leader will be decided by Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, but his selection will first need to be approved by City Council.
In the last search, Dial was promoted to police chief about four months after the death of former Huntington Police Chief Joe Ciccarelli. Ciccarelli served in office from November 2014 to 2017. He was named as the replacement for Skip Holbrook about five months after Holbrook resigned in 2014, having serving in the position since 2007.
Cornwell said he hasn’t thrown his name into the ring to be Dial’s replacement just yet, but it could be coming, he said.
“That greatly depends on what the field looks like,” he said. “I’ve told several people, when you start this career, you are loyal to your academy mates. When you come back and work for a while, you get loyal to your shift, and after 20 years you get loyal to the organization. If it looks like there are some good, solid applicants in there that I think can take the department on to the next level, I’ll probably stay right where I’m at.”
Cornwell said it will be up to the next appointed chief to make decisions and changes to the department that he or she deems fit. For now, his goal is to keep the momentum going within the department and focus on hiring additional officers to fill vacant positions.
“It’s a very competitive market right now for active police officers to try to find qualified candidates,” he said. “We’re trying to do some things in the police department to change that and make this a place where people want to come and apply and work so we can continue to make Huntington a place people want to come and live, work and do business.”