HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – The city of Huntington is reallocating $500,000 in its budget to hire 10 new police officers to fight drug problems in neighborhoods.
The city council unanimously approved the move Thursday. It will transfer funds from the city’s insurance program and the street paving budget, media outlets report.
City officials estimate that drug offenses in Huntington by the end of the year will jump 89 percent over 2013 levels. The city has seen spikes in cocaine trafficking this year and heroin trafficking last year.
Before the vote, the council discussed the drug trafficking problems at length with interim police chief Jim Johnson, Capt. Hank Dial, Cabell County Prosecutor Sean Hammers and other law enforcement officials.
“We are going to take our neighborhoods back,” Mayor Steve Williams told the council. “We are going to tell (the drug dealers) you better get the hell out. If not, we’re coming for you.”
Williams said the drug epidemic has “spread all over the city. People are scared. They feel like they can’t go outside with their children.”
The hirings will bring the department to 121 sworn officers and 137 employees overall. Williams said the hope is to have the new officers in place by the end of the year. In addition to the new officers, an information technology position will be created.
The funding includes $350,000 left over from the previous fiscal year for claims in the city’s insurance line, and $150,000 from paving scheduled for next spring.
“We have more immediate need right now,” Williams said of the paving funds. “My feeling was that it is early enough in the fiscal year that we will be able to find a way to replace that money by next spring.”
Johnson called the council’s action “a new day in Huntington.
“It shows you realize the problem we have on the street,” Johnson said. “The Huntington Police Department is going to bring it and we’re going to bring it hard.”
Huntington is still looking to hire a permanent replacement for police chief Skip Holbrook, who left for a similar job in Columbia, South Carolina, in the spring.