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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The COPS Office is pleased to feature the Lexington Police Department as the January 2018 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest. The winning photo features Sergeant Joseph Eckhardt and Officer Scott Falconberry greeting a young child and her mother on their horses during a local “Adopt a Park” event.
In Lexington, the second largest city in Kentucky, horses roam freely throughout protected farmlands. Known as the “horse capital of the world,” Lexington offers residents both urban living and lush greenery in the heart of the Bluegrass Region. The city of approximately 320,000 residents is nestled within the larger Lexington-Fayette Urban County of approximately 500,000 residents. The Lexington Police Department services the entire consolidated city-county of over 800,000 people daily.
Similar to many other American cities, Lexington struggles with the negative effects of drug and opioid abuse among residents. Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard shared that the impact of the opioid crisis extends far beyond the users themselves, and has become a public safety issue.
“Lexington is such a vibrant community. We have so many events downtown and we’ve had to increase our staffing. We’ve increased our teams to ensure public safety,” he said. “It’s becoming more intricate than it has been in the past.”
Having been with the department for 31 years, Chief Barnard, who will officially retire on January 7, 2018, has seen the impact of national and international events on the way officers approach their jobs. As the department leader, Barnard emphasizes the importance of staying in contact with federal partners in order to stay prepared. He also shared that recruitment and training are critical to a successful department. Keeping 630 sworn officers and 185 civilian personnel motivated comes with its challenges, but Barnard thinks Lexington gets it right.
“It all starts with the selection process,” he shared. “Our training academy is one of the longest in the country because of the expectations our community has for our officers.” LPD officers are required to complete a rigorous 32-33 week police training academy in which they are challenged both academically and physically. “Their motivation comes from their everyday challenges and how they’re interacting with the public.”
The Mounted Unit, part of the department’s Bureau of Special Operations, brings horses into the community, not only to patrol special events, but also to serve as a bridge between community members and police. The residents that may be fearful of law enforcement might find solace in the horses and feel more comfortable to approach officers in the Mounted Unit. The Mounted Unit also helps officers engage with children, who love the horses.
LPD’s winning photo features a little girl and her mother interacting with horses and officers during an “Adopt a Park” event. “Adopt a Park” was established in 2015 by a local non-profit organization and a city council member to provide positive summer activities to children and youth in the Valley Park community, which is largely Hispanic. Officers participate in this event to help build and maintain relationships of trust with residents.
“I often joke and say ‘It’s [the Mounted Unit] the only place in the police department that we have the fire department beat’,” laughed Sgt. Joseph Eckhardt, an 18-year veteran of the department who is also featured in the photo. “Those big red trucks don’t have anything on the horses.”
Often assigned to events such as “Adopt a Park,” Eckhardt shared that the public response to the horses is generally always positive and the horses serve as an excellent icebreaker. “If you put horses in the middle of an event, you can’t count the number of people who will come up to the horses.”
While one might think that Lexington residents would be used to seeing horses and therefore not as excited to see the Mounted Unit, both Eckhardt and Barnard agree that the horses are an important aspect of community policing. They capture the attention of residents of all ages, which is critical to building relationships of trust.
“We’re in horse country – the horse capital of the world – and some children here have never seen a horse,” Barnard said passionately. “Some children live five minutes from the airport and have never seen a plane take off and land.”
Barnard understands that exposure is important to children’s learning and development, so he encourages LPD officers to impact the lives of local children. Lexington’s Police Athletics/ Activities League offers youth more than just interaction with law enforcement officers, but also to activities, trips, and academic programs. The LPD started its first-ever academic team and bought uniforms and books for youth. They visit local attractions, hear from inspiring speakers, and get additional academic help – all to help broaden their horizons and lead them down paths to success.
Barnard, who is ending his tenure as chief this month, speaks highly of LPD officers and the Lexington community at-large. “We have such a great community in Lexington. We meet monthly with our Muslim, Jewish, LGBTQ leaders, our Human Rights Council, and we just talk to each other. It’s really helped us bridge gaps.” He attributes these great relationships to LPD’s recruitment process, which takes into consideration an applicant’s community involvement before becoming officers. “It’s about how involved you are in the community before you come here to work, and what you have done. It’s hard to start afterwards vs. before.”
The COPS Office congratulates the Lexington Police Department for being one of the 12 winners of the COPS Office 2018 Community Policing in Action Photo Contest and for its commitment to community policing.
Written with contributions from Chief Mark Barnard and Sgt. Joseph Eckhardt. Photo courtesy of the Lexington Police Department.
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