RICHMOND — Master Trooper Chris Lanham was doing community policing before politicians touted it.
Employed by Kentucky State Police since 1989, Lanham made it a point to be part of his community, whether he was assigned to the Pike ville, Dry Ridge or Richmond posts.
"I tell these young troopers ... 'Be seen in the local mom 'n' pop stores. Do business with them. Stop in there for a sandwich or a Coca-Cola or coffee,'" Lanham said. "...They'll come and tell you things they wouldn't approach other police officers with. They'll tell you who they think is moving stolen property. They'll tell you who they think is dealing drugs."
After 22 years with state police, Lanham, 48, plans to retire at the end of the month. For the past eight years, he has been the public affairs officer for the Richmond post. That means he's not only responsible for fielding questions from reporters, but he also speaks to civic and church groups and raises money for Trooper Island, a summer camp for young people on Dale Hollow Lake.
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"I wanted to really make a difference in young people's lives," Lanham said. "If I can change a young person's direction in life, I feel that my 22 years would have all been worth it.
"I've talked to kids that I stopped years ago for a traffic infringement or they might have had alcohol or something. I cut 'em some slack, and years later they sought me out and said, 'You know, I really appreciate what you did.' One in particular is a major in the United States Marine Corps. He was going down that path of making some wrong choices in his life, and I took the time to speak with him about staying in school and being a good citizen."
Capt. Eddie Johnson, commander of Post 7 in Richmond, has known Lanham since they served together on the Marijuana Strike Force. A 1991 photo in Johnson's office shows him, Lanham and other members of a rappel team that cut down marijuana in Knox County, put it in a sling, and then attached the sling to a helicopter that carried the pot away to be burned.
Johnson said Lanham will be missed.
"He's got good initiative and he takes hold of things. Many times I've said, 'Chris what about this?' 'Oh, yeah, I've already taken care of that,'" Johnson said.
"We've asked him to work the road for us when we're short. He never says anything. Matter of fact, (recently) he worked a three-car accident in Madison County. He rolled up on it and worked it and took care of it. You never have to worry about Chris taking care of business and doing what he's supposed to be doing."
Lanham was born in Twentynine Palms, Calif. His family moved around because his father was a Marine Corps officer. The young Lanham lived in North and South Carolina, Oklahoma, Virginia and California.
"I remember the troopers in all those states, and that was something I looked up to," Lanham said. "I knew what their job entailed by my early teens, and that was something that really, really interested me."
Lanham enlisted in the Marines at 18, and when he left the Corps in 1985, law enforcement was still in the back of his mind. He operated an auto-glass company in Frankfort, then applied to state police in 1988 after learning it was seeking cadets.
After stints at the Pikeville and Dry Ridge posts, Lanham transferred to the Richmond post in 1996. In 2003 he became the post's public affairs officer. Pattie Cox, editor of The Garrard Central Record, the weekly newspaper in Lancaster, said Lanham was "just very straightforward" in dealing with reporters.
"I've always found him to be just very open and honest and easy to talk to, the kind of guy that a reporter dealing with stories about tragedy and murder and crime would want to talk to," Cox said.
Lanham said he and his wife of 24 years, Kim, had talked about retirement ever since she recovered from major health problems last year. In April 2010, she had four heart bypasses and two heart valves replaced at age 47. The Lincoln County couple have a daughter, Sarah, 17.
"It was a huge wake-up call. It made me realize how precious life is and how short it is," Lanham said.
The job itself was a reminder of that, as Lanham recalled situations he won't miss, such as fatal crashes or deadly crime scenes.
"I remember every dead child. Their faces, how they died," Lanham said. "I've sat in my car gathering information at these scenes, and I've cried like a baby. I've gotten home and cried like a baby. ... I'm not going to miss that, or having to knock on a door in the middle of the night and tell a loved one that their son or daughter is not coming home."
While he intends to retire from state police, Lanham said he would like to continue to invest in law enforcement, perhaps as an instructor with the state Department of Criminal Justice Training in Richmond. At the Richmond post, he is involved in firearms training and recertification of troopers in the use of radar. Last year he was named a "master trooper," a title that recognizes troopers who aren't necessarily interested in promotion but who have gone above and beyond in training and accepting additional responsibilities.
If an educational opportunity comes to pass, it would offer Lanham another forum in which to preach his gospel of community policing.
"It's very important that a trooper become a part of his community. And if you do that, people will look up to you and they'll help you in a time of need," Lanham said. "I might be having trouble with someone I'm trying to place under arrest, and I've actually had people stop to help me when I'm struggling with someone I'm trying to handcuff or wrestling with on the ground. I've had people stop and they'll run up and get handful of that person, and try to help me get that person under control. That's a good feeling at 2 o'clock in the morning on some back country road, that people are willing to stop and help you."