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Taking Steps

Charleston Plans to ‘De-Escalate’ Police

Charleston Police Chief James Hunt is taking important steps to make sure his officers have the best chance possible to avoid confrontations turning lethal. He sent an action plan letter to Wheeling native and city Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin this past week, outlining steps to be taken in the wake of two officers shooting and wounding a Black man who was wielding a knife, in April.

To be clear, Kanawha County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Don Morris says a review of body camera video shows the officers handled the situation correctly. But the incident still gave Hunt an opportunity to look for ways for his department to do better.

Following the shooting, the department is revising its stun gun policy, increasing the number of officers wearing body cameras and will no longer allow officers to carry shotguns in their cruisers that have lethal rounds. Officers will instead be allowed to use only shotguns that have “less-lethal rounds,” Hunt wrote. Ten officers will be sent later this summer to a course that “addresses an officer’s handling of mental health related calls for service.”

Hunt says his efforts are focused on “de-escalating” his department, not defunding it.

His efforts are to be commended — provided no decisions are made that compromise officers’ safety on the job. In fact, his plan is worth study by other departments across the state.

“While we can always do better, and will continue to do better, the steps outlined in the Chief’s plan will provide more officers with the equipment and training needed to keep everyone safe,” Goodwin said.

If it does, indeed, turn out that the plan helps keep everyone safe, other law enforcement organizations should take a look at what they can do — within their means — to implement similar steps.

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