HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (KT) - The shooting death of an unknown man early Thursday added to the list of homicide cases Huntington police are investigating this week, and Gov. Jim Justice has promised support from the West Virginia National Guard for the state’s second-largest city.
In a four-day period since Monday, the city has experienced five shootings that left three injured and three dead, adding to a yearly total that was already higher than any on record for the city. Thursday's case was the city's 19th homicide for 2017.
Justice has instructed the West Virginia National Guard to increase support to the Huntington Police Department by authorizing the Guard to use additional state resources to increase the capabilities of the counter-narcotics program, said Maj. Gen. Jim Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard.
“The focus of what the governor wants the Guard to do is what we have done for a number of years, and we are pretty good at – providing that technical support so the law enforcement officers can get out and spend their time doing the law enforcement work that they need to do in greater numbers,” Hoyer said.
The additional number of National Guard members in Huntington starts Friday with the analytical support and some aviation assets to allow Huntington police officers to watch over West Virginia’s second-largest city from the sky, Hoyer said.
“The people of this city have to know I will always have their back,” Justice told WSAZ. Regarding violence in the city, “It has got to be stopped.”
The program, part of the Guard's duties for the past 20 years, provides technical support to law enforcement agencies for drug investigations. Hoyer said this can include aerial support, helpful in finding marijuana crops, or help building intelligence packages. Hoyer said the goal of the program is to allow law enforcement to do their functions directly related to law enforcement.
"That doesn't mean setting a Humvee on every street corner," Justice said. "We can't do that because the National Guard doesn't get involved in law enforcement, but between the National Guard and the State Police, we're going to stop it. That's all there is to it."
As of Wednesday, police had made arrests in 13 of the homicide cases reported in 2017. Arrest warrants had been issued for two people involved in a fatal shooting last month, said Huntington police Capt. Hank Dial.
The striking increase in homicides has been attributed to illegal drug activity and staffing issues with the Huntington Police Department.
The Herald-Dispatch reported Thursday that the department has only 95 employed with the capability to field 103 officers.
More than 5,000 grams of heroin have been seized in the city this year, nearly doubling the 2,600 grams of heroin seized in 2016, according to Huntington Mayor Steve Williams.
Huntington is located about 15 miles from Ashland in northeastern Kentucky.