Written by Aaron-Michael Fox.
Since 1872, the Huntington Police Department has worked hard to earn what is now a solid reputation as the premier urban law enforcement agency in our region (that’s not me talking, that’s the FBI, the DoJ, AAA, and numerous other national entities who have bestowed such awards on the department).
I’ll freely admit that I did not come to appreciate the police easily. I grew up in hillbilly country where the cops were always trying to stop us from doing hillbilly things (making moonshine, driving too fast on country roads, growing “weeds” that are now legal in other states, etc.). But like those same country roads, life comes with twists and turns and–for me–has led to me getting to know several of Huntington’s finest and it has totally changed my perspective.
Over the last few days, I have been fortunate enough to get to dig through HPD’s archives with an eye toward historical preservation and I wanted to share some of what I’ve found. I say “some” because I digitized more than 200 photos, but I cut that collection down to 18 that I feel tell the story of HPD.
Special thanks to Chief Hank Dial, former Chief Mike Nimmo, Lieutenant Phil Watkins, and Captain Ray Cornwell for their help in assembling this article.
1. Huntington Police Horses
This photo doesn’t go back that far since I remember when Huntington still had a horse-mounted unit, but I miss it and wish it would come back (if even just for parades), so that’s what I’m leading off this collection with.
*The officer in the center is Kim Wolfe, who went on to be Mayor of the City of Huntington from 2009-2012. The officer on the left is current Barboursville Police Chief Mike Coffey.
2. Community Mentors
We were all taught at an early age that if something goes wrong, find a policeman for help. It doesn’t matter what the problem might be, find a cop and they can help you solve it. That’s something that requires building relationships with the community and is not a responsibility Huntington’s police officers take lightly. In this undated photo, an HPD officer demonstrates how the fingerprinting system works for a group of Cub Scouts.
3. Community Members
Police officers are people, like all other people. They are husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, and some of the most committed members of our community as illustrated by this photo of future HPD Chief Mike Nimmo in 1976 on the old Ninth Street Plaza.
4. First Policeman
This photo had a lengthy handwritten description on the back, but the only part that was legible after however many years was “first policeman,” so I hope in the deepest parts of my heart that this unnamed gentleman was Huntington’s first police officer.
5. Paddy Wagons
HPD officers O.C. Jackson and W.C. Magby with a Huntington “patrol wagon” in 1924.
6. Huntington PoliceMobile
It’s been said that the best and worst thing to ever happen to a police officer was the incorporation of the police car because it allowed a smaller number of officers to patrol a wider area, but it also took the policeman out of the neighborhood. That being said, this HPD patrol car from the 1960s is pretty awesome.
7. Huntington PoliceCycle
Before the Huntington Police Department was covering the whole city on four wheels, they were doing that job on two wheels, as evidence by this photo of an HPD officer with his motorcycle in 1907.
8. Feel the Thunder
Speaking of HPD motorcycles, here’s a few of Huntington’s finest at Marshall’s old Fairfield Stadium in this undated photo.
9. Police Call Boxes
So if cars and motorcycles were so bad for police work, what did officers do before that? What did they do before personal radios? The answer is call boxes which were strategically located around the city. Each officer would have a key to carry when they were walking their beat. If they saw the light on on top of a call box, they would use the key to call back to headquarters to find out what was going on and then respond. Likewise, if they found something that required police intervention, they could call back to let the rest of the department know what was happening. Former HPD officer Ted Riffle illustrates for a reporter in this photo from the 1960s.
10. Mug Shots
Radios and automobiles weren’t the only things to radically change police work. Obviously the computer and the internet were earth-shattering changes. Before digital records, HPD kept track of criminals using index cards like this one of Bertie Kemp who was arrested on December 28, 1918 for “violating prohibition.”
On the subject of changing technology, here’s a few HPD officers learning to use a new teletype machine in 1971. L-R: David Bell, Austin “Pappy” Hairston, John Trout, Mike Nimmo, and James “Chip” Taylor (seated).
12. 1913 Flood
Nothing makes one realize how important our emergency services are like a natural disaster. Below is a picture of some Huntington police officers during the great flood of 1913.
13. Huntington Greens
As of this writing, there is only one law enforcement agency in the state of West Virginia that can lawfully wear green uniforms: the West Virginia State Police…except for the Huntington Police Department. After WWI, the WVSP allowed troopers to wear their old military uniforms from the war, and ultimately styled their modern uniforms after that traditional look. However, HPD had that same idea before the state police did, so Huntington is grandfathered into the law, even though we have long since gone back to the iconic blue uniforms our officers have worn since 1872.
14. Original Blues
An original blue HPD uniform from the early-1900s.
15. First City Hall
Our city was incorporated under the name of “Huntington” on February 27, 1871 (the first permanent settlement was established in 1775). The original Huntington City Hall was erected in 1872 and housed the entire city government as well as the police and fire departments. It was located on the southeast corner of Ninth Street and Fourth-and-a-half Alley and replaced by the modern City Hall in 1915.
Before West Virginia switched to a regional corrections facility system, Huntington had its own city jail. Below is a picture of some Inmates in the 1950s(?).
17. Holding the Ragged Edge
Maintaining law and order is by no means all fun and games, as illustrated by this photo of HPD riot training from the 1960s.
18. HPD Eternal
As of 2019, eight Huntington police officers have seen their watch end before it was supposed to be over. Those include City Marshal Isaac Mitchell (1876), Constable Robert Long (1890), Officer Oscar Christian (1914), Officer Charles Ball (1923), Lieutenant Charles Frederick Bricker (1940), Patrolman Clemmie Curtis (1976), Officer Paul Harmon (1981), and Officer James Mills (1982). It is important to remember these men when we take the role of the Huntington Police Department for granted.
MORE: read Downtown Huntington’s exclusive interview with Chief Hank Dial HERE.
The Huntington Police Department is currently hiring future problem solvers. For those interested in a career on the front lines pushing Huntington forward, go to HPDWV.com/Recruit.