David Adkins Published

Huntington's New Police Chief Talks Goals For Department And Tackling Opioid Epidemic

HPD Chief Colder

On Nov. 22, 2021, Huntington’s new police chief, Karl Colder, took the oath office, becoming the first Black police chief in the city’s history. Chief Colder served as a special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. He spoke with David Adkins to discuss the beginning of his tenure and his upcoming plans for the Huntington Police Department.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

David Adkins: Mayor Williams has said that you’re “unbelievably qualified”. He said he knew you from your work in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and that you’re a familiar face to Huntington. What is your familiarity with the city?

Chief Colder: I saw the limited resources that were afforded to West Virginia at the federal level concerning the opioid issue, being the highest overdose death rate per capita in the country. So I had to bring in resources.

Part of that responsibility was to unite with Health and Human Services, the health department, other federal, state, and local agencies, to come together to join forces in dealing with substance use disorders and the opioid epidemic.

My area of responsibility was vast at that point in time. Still, you have to have that coordination between agencies, even bringing that skill set to the federal government working with our federal partners, our state partners and even the surrounding police departments within the area, or region to deal with police issues. To deal with the drug problem.

David Adkins: Do you find that your time working as a consultant and instructor has given you insight into how best to improve upon the Huntington Police Department?

Chief Colder: Policing in general has changed, it has gone from a more, I would say, hands on approach to a more analytical approach, and so a lot of what I did in my consulting was bringing analytics tools from different companies into the federal government system for law enforcement, and even in state and local systems. So when, for example, police chiefs need to know how to dedicate their resources. Well, now with analytical tools, they can better do that job, because now they can pinpoint where problem areas are, and dedicate resources to it. So that’s where the analytics comes in. So now what took agencies and public police departments months to solve in terms of cases, or even years, could take weeks.

Right now, I could say where we’re right at the beginning to mid levels in dealing with analytics. There’s different tools that we’re using now that can put us in the forefront of that, but now working with the US Attorney’s Office, working with the Fusion Center in Charleston, creating our own fusion center, and Task Force oriented policing here in the Huntington area. That’s really important, getting agencies to deconflict, and that means sharing information, and so we have several task forces here in the Huntington surrounding area. How can we get them all at the same table at the same time, sharing information, unifying to really deal with issues and problems?

David Adkins: The Deputy Police Chief position was created within the department, and former Lt. Phil Watkins was chosen for the position. What factors went into creating the position?

Chief Colder: I think that was one of the first things that the mayor and I spoke about, early on, when I accepted the position, and one of the reasons we looked at that, we wanted to really provide administrative support to what we were doing in terms of the police department.

For example, we had one captain, who may have been responsible for community outreach, recruitment, professional standards, and really, what we wanted to do is separate that out . So now there’s direct oversight over this committee, community policing, which is really important, as we all know, from what’s going on across the country, in terms of social injustice and other issues that have gone on. You have your professional standards, which is the integrity component of your whole agency. And that shouldn’t be included in other operations, you know, that should be separated out and controlled through the police chief and deputy chief.

Note: Huntington City Councilwoman Teresa Johnson will host a meet-and-greet with Police Chief Karl Colder at 6 p.m. Tuesday, January 11, at the A.D. Lewis Community Center. The meet-and-greet aims to introduce Police Chief Colder to the community of Huntington’s Fairfield District.

David Adkins: Huntington has had a long troubled history with race relations. With you being the city’s first black police chief, how does it feel to be part of our evolving history?

Chief Colder: Policing has not always been on the right side of the people, and it’s been that way in any African American community. I really think that understanding that as an African American police chief, I can better prepare our officers for those questions, and how to police in that setting. I think that is really important, that we understand culture, that we become culturally adroit to the African American community, as well as the white community. We have to be that face of America, well, we need officers who are African American. My job is to be the face of the agency, and also the face of the community. I think that’s important, me serving as the role model for the community. I think bringing my credentials to the table, sharing that with the community, whether that’s the white community or black community, I think that’s a great thing for people to see that people of color are successful.

My teaching experience, I think that taught me a whole lot about young people, and oftentimes we don’t get to hear their voice. They don’t see things the way that we see it as adults, and there’s a reason for that, but that’s where we can cultivate leaders, get young people to understand that there are differences, because a lot of issues that we deal with are subjective. Our young people have to do their own research, they have to understand what’s really going on, and they can’t depend on the media and adults to really tell them what’s going on, because adults have a hard time talking to each other; young people, they see it differently. I had the opportunity to spend the last two years or so understanding young people.

Note: Huntington City Councilwoman Teresa Johnson will host a meet-and-greet with Police Chief Karl Colder at 6 p.m. Tuesday, January 11, at the A.D. Lewis Community Center. The meet-and-greet aims to introduce Police Chief Colder to the community of Huntington’s Fairfield District.