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Charleston Citizens Push For Alternatives To Policing

Fairmont City Police Cruiser
Sarah Lowther Hensley
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Activists continue to push the City of Charleston to implement policing alternatives after an incident where police officers shot a man last month.

At the Charleston City Council meeting on Monday, local activist Hunter Starks asked that police not be dispatched on every 911 call. Starks said there are other ways to approach vulnerable citizens in the throes of a mental breakdown.

“When someone is in crisis, an authority figure with a gun will always feel like a threat for so many reasons,” Starks said.

Activists like Chad Cordell are calling for a 24-7 mental health response team that could be dispatched in lieu of the police.

“The mobile crisis response teams that we’re talking about are 24-hour fully staffed response teams that are fully integrated into the existing 911 emergency response system, just like paramedics and firefighters,” he said.

In late April, Denaul Dickerson was allegedly welding a knife when police pursued and then shot him.

Following the incident, Dickerson was in an ICU before being sent to a regional jail. He’s currently being held on a $50,000 cash bond, with a hearing scheduled for June 3 in Kanawha County Magistrate Court.

Later at the meeting, council members heard from the Mayor’s CARE office, or Coordinated Addiction Response Effort. The team responds to those experiencing homelessness, substance use disorder and other crises. The team hits the streets to provide assistance within 24-72 hours after an incident. CARE workers also offer follow up services like treatment and housing referrals.

Activists said they were pleased to hear a mental health coordinator joined the team just days after the shooting. They don’t think it’s the full solution.

Mayor Amy Goodwin wrote to Police Chief Tyke Hunt earlier this month, requesting a plan of action to train officers in de-escalation tactics by June 1. She also called for the purchase of more stun guns and training on that equipment.

Footage from the scene of Dickerson’s shooting depicts officers asking each other who had a taser. Few had one. Hunt has said, due to COVID-19, that his officers have fallen behind on their training for that equipment.

Kyle Vass contributed to this story.


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