Written by Aaron-Michael Fox.
On June 1, 2018 at the Municipal Courtroom at the Huntington Police Department, native Huntingtonian Captain Hank Dial will be sworn-in as the next Chief of Huntington Police. This represents the culmination of a distinguished 27 year career for the new chief. I sat down with Capt. Dial in his HPD office to discuss his new job and his plans for the future.
Aaron-Michael Fox: First off, congratulations!
Hank Dial: Thank you!
AMF: However, this feels a little bit like being behind enemy lines. I’ve always cultivated an “outlaw” fantasy for myself.
HD: Don’t worry. You don’t have to have an attorney with you today.
AMF: Thank you! So anyway, you’re originally from Huntington, correct?
HD: I grew up in Huntington. My family moved here from Lincoln County when I was 11. But I was born at St. Mary’s, I went to West Junior High, Huntington High, and then Marshall University. I’ve spent my whole life here.
AMF: And did you want to grow up to be a cop? Is that what you always wanted to do?
HD: It was something I’d always thought about. And then I came out of Marshall, got married, Desert Storm popped up, then I came back and was looking for a career where I could stay in Huntington. Also, I wanted mission-oriented work, something I could be proud of and throw my life into. And then this opportunity came up–there were other job offers that would’ve taken me away from Huntington, but they weren’t things that I wanted to be my life’s work. And then once I got my feet under me and started learning how to be a police officer, I started going out into the community and doing more community-based policing, I started going out into community groups and I really enjoyed that…
AMF: That’s how we got to know each other, through the Neighborhood Institute almost 10 years ago.
HD: Exactly! You know, the Neighborhood Institute, we started that in 1995 through the original COPS grant and we’ve worked closely with those groups ever since. It started with the neighborhood associations and then the Neighborhood Institute.
AMF: That’s neat! So I have to ask, did you set out to be the chief from the beginning? Or did you just happen into it?
HD: Oh, no! When you first get here, you’re just trying to learn the job. But by the time you start to near the end of your career, you kind of consider it. My command staff I’ve known…some of them I went to the academy with, some I was in the Army with, some I’ve known since elementary school. So we’ve always talked about what we’d do if we were ever in charge. So it’s sort of like us becoming chief, not really me becoming chief. We’ve got a great group of guys here. I really appreciate Mayor Williams giving me–and us–the chance to do it. I take it as a major vote of confidence in the men and women of the police department when you promote a chief from within. I think that speaks volumes about the hard work they do day in and day out.
AMF: You’re following in some big footsteps with Chief Ciccarelli and Chief Holbrook before him. Is that intimidating at all?
HD: That’s a great question and I’m going to speak a little about the chiefs that I’ve worked for at my swearing-in. And I’ve learned from all of them. Like Chief Lee Black, he was my Lieutenant on midnight shift. Chief Mike Nimmo, he was my Sergeant on midnight shift. I worked closely with their offices. And [Chief] Gordon Ramey and I, we were in the Army together and went to college together. I worked closely with his office. I was a Commander under Chief Holbrook and we were very proud of a lot of the things we were able to do. I actually copied a lot of things from his playbook. He knew the benefit of partnering agencies and how to bring those resources to Huntington. And the passion for justice and the passion the job that I learned from Joe Ciccarelli was very important to me. I miss that man every day. So my goal is, I’ve learned a lot from those men, and I just want to do right by them.
AMF: You already mentioned community engagement and I know that’s important to you as a law man, not just as chief.
HD: I’ll talk all day about that because community engagement is huge for us. We can’t do our job without the help of the community. You’ll find me, and my officers, at community meetings. You’ll see me actively involved in different Facebook pages for the communities. I learn more from them than I’ll ever be able to repay. Every Tuesday and Thursday night since 1995 I have been at a community meeting somewhere in the city.
AMF: And you’re not even running for office!
HD: (Laughing) No, I’m not running for anything. I go to those meetings because they know their neighborhoods. The easiest place for a Huntington police commander to be is inside this building, but you’ve got to go out and talk to people and learn things. When I talk about partnering agencies, the FBI, the DEA, the ATF; these are all important partnerships, but so are the neighborhood organizations.
AMF: So how do you feel about the state of the department that you’re taking over?
HD: Well, you know we had a downsize in personnel, but we’re building that back up now. I’m excited. The men and women are making some changes and it’s very exciting. We are hiring right now. We have the funding to go up to 108 police officers, so I’m looking to hire about 15 people in the next 12 months. We’re trying different strategies to reach different applicants because it’s tough finding people who want to be policemen today.
AMF: I know I joked earlier about the “outlaw mentality,” but it feels like that is an actual problem. What would you say to qualified people who would not think about applying because they hold an adversarial view of the police?
HD: I would welcome them to give me a call so we can talk about it. Because we need folks to be police officers. And I feel like how we are portrayed in the media isn’t what we do every day. You and I have known each other a pretty long time now, and I imagine that once you get to know some of our police officers–be it me or the other guys–you kind of get a different view of the police department. If anybody wants to talk to me about what it’s like and what we need them to do on the job, I’ll talk to them personally. Just call the police department and ask for me.
AMF: And for anybody who is already thinking about it, what would you say you’re looking for in a Huntington police officer?
HD: We want problem solvers. We like to say that we have the position of “problem identifier” filled. We know what the issues are facing Huntington. From the Mayor on down, we hear the problems and we’re facing them. I want to hire problem solvers and people who want to be part of that team. Your peer group here is beyond the pale, you’ll be working with some of the best law enforcement officers in the country. And Huntington is a great city to live in. I know that’s another thing that gets beat up in the media, but you moved here and stayed. And it’s not all roses, there are some frustrating days, but it’s a wonderful city to live and raise kids and we want to keep it that way.
AMF: Thank you very much, Chief, and good luck!
HD: Thank you.
Anyone interested in becoming a Huntington Police Officer can apply HERE.