Randy Yohe Published

New Southern W.Va. Law Enforcement Grants Highlight Mental Health Issues And ‘Dementia Walkaways’

Man in police uniform standing at podium
HPD Chief Phil Watkins explains how the grants will be used.
Randy Yohe/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Several million dollars in U.S. Department of Justice grants, divided among various community law enforcement incentives and programs, are coming to communities in southern West Virginia. The grants were announced by U.S. Attorney for West Virginia’s Southern District Will Thompson at a press conference in Huntington Tuesday. 

The Huntington Police Department (HPD) is the biggest winner, receiving four grants totaling $1,872,620. 

The “Kevin and Avonte Program” awards $150,000 to help reduce the injury and death of missing individuals with dementia by using locative technology to prevent wandering emergencies.

”Dementia walkaways” have become a persistent West Virginia problem and challenge. Huntington Police Chief Phil Watkins said his department will partner with local health care providers to identify individuals that are most suited for this program.

“We’re going to provide the locator technology, the actual equipment, as well as the software,” Watkins said. “The way that’s going to work is the clients, so to speak, who received this locative technology, their family and loved ones will have access the same as we do to the locator software, so the family can be checking along with the police.”

Titled the “Byrne Jag Earmark,” a $692,000 congressionally appropriated award from U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., will fund community policing endeavors for the Huntington Police Department. This will include the salaries of an additional Mental Health Liaison, Community Outreach Coordinators, tactical medicine training for surrounding agencies and more.

A Community Oriented Policing Grant of $380,620 will be used to expand HPD’s Crisis Intervention Team operations from a daytime schedule to evening and off-hour operations. HPD will use the funding for a full-time mental health worker and a part-time community outreach coordinator.

Watkins said it is vital for his officers to know how to deal with substance abuse disorders, mental health issues and often, the combination of both. 

“The more information that our officers have,” Watkins said. “The better trained they are. That is so that they can identify the difference in behaviors and what they’re dealing with.”

The fourth Huntington initiative grants $650,000 to the Improving Adult & Youth Crisis Stabilization and Community Reentry Program. This award will fund the Huntington Police Department’s “Turn Around” program. This program will partner with Prestera Behavioral Health Care to send mental health case managers into Western Regional Jail to prepare inmates for their release back into society. 

Thompson also announced several other southern West Virginia communities that received grants. 

The Beckley Police Department received a $625,000 grant, the Mercer County Sheriff’s office received a $375,000 grant and the Logan County Sheriff’s office received a $573,261 grant to hire additional police officers. 

The Mercer County Sheriff’s office received a $400,000 grant and the Wyoming County Sheriff’s department got a $300,000 grant for crisis intervention team development.

The Milton Police Department received a $63,000 grant for live scan fingerprint equipment and the Charleston Police Department is receiving a $750,000 grant for a training simulator.