When he made the transition last year from chief of police to public safety commissioner, Ronnie Bastin left some big shoes to fill. So, it was quite a statement when a search committee voted unanimously to recommend Mark Barnard, a 28-year veteran of the force, as Bastin's successor. Having had some time to adjust to the demands and responsibilities of the job, Barnard talked with Tom Martin about his new role and the nature of crime and law enforcement in Lexington.
Martin: What new ideas do you bring to the department?
Barnard: Law enforcement has never faced what we face now with the national attention, and scrutiny. So, we have to constantly re-envision ourselves, be open to suggestions, be creative with how we're doing policing. We have to be innovative and begin looking at the way crime goes up, why, and how we can really affect those reasons other than just putting people in jail. That is an old model that law enforcement has relied on and that is simply a Band-Aid fix for issues that are going on in society.
Martin: Incarceration is a big topic.
Barnard: It is. Crimes that were committed 20 years ago in today's society don't seem that bad. You see the legalization of marijuana now. And so an individual (sent to prison) 20 years ago now has a felony for something that's legalized today. So, there are shifts in societal needs and the ways people perceive issues. So, we have a person that has a drug history and can't get that expunged from their record. They've paid their debt to society and we say, 'Now you're free to do what you want to do.' But really, when you go to an employer, they're saying, 'Well, you're really not employable because you have a felony' — even though that felony may be for a drug charge that is now legalized today. And that person never gets over that stigma. I'm a huge proponent of re-entry programs for felons, setting time limits to make sure that there are not reoccurring issues going on with the individual, and then allowing them a second chance, a true second chance, not just one on paper, but a true opportunity to be someone sustainable in our society.
Martin: It seems that there have been more business-related crimes. Is that the case? And what are you advising businesses to do?
Barnard: Bank robberies are pretty consistent. We work very closely with the banks about being preemptive, about having the facility looked at, and doing crime prevention acts inside it and the training to say, 'When a robbery occurs, here is what you should do.' We have seen some smash-and-grabs. We traced the suspects to Detroit. We have worked with the FBI and other agencies on that group going around the country doing those smash-and-grabs. Lexington is growing. And when you increase in population and size, so does the opportunity for crime.
Martin: Are we a prime target here or something?
Barnard: Well, Lexington's a great city. There are all sorts of opportunities here. The lifespan of someone dealing drugs in Chicago compared to Lexington is probably half. And the amount of product that you could sell, you're making twice the markup value on it because of so much saturation in Chicago. But we are very proactive in working with the DEA. We work a lot with our other agencies. We have a great network of people that assist us in these investigations. The key to it is learning from mistakes, getting better at what we're doing.
Martin: White-collar crime. What's going on in that area?
Barnard: Our financial crimes unit is probably one of the most overworked units that we have. One of the biggest things that we're having this year — and it's happened to a couple of a friends of mine — they filed their income taxes and they (the IRS) said, 'No, we've already sent the return to you. You've already gotten money back.' Someone's assumed their identity. The Internet has really caused tremendous issues. It's just a whole different arena of investigation than we're used to. There are things that occur that you never would have heard of 10 years ago. So, where does the crime occur if you're selling something on eBay and you're defrauded? Is it in Lexington or is where you tried to purchase it? And it's trying to figure out those logistics.
Martin: Another very big issue in Lexington and all over the country is gun violence. What do you see happening here?
Barnard: Gun violence has really increased across the United States. I think law enforcement is frustrated, overall; I'm frustrated, I can tell you. We're seeing it. The shootings that we've had here in Lexington; no respect for life or for each other. All the town hall meetings I go to, all of the neighborhood meetings, everyone is frustrated with it. Eventually we're going to have to look at the criminal justice system and say are we truly doing the best for the law-abiding citizens?
Martin: You mentioned that you're feeling the extreme scrutiny that police forces all over the country are under these days. A lot of that relates to what is perceived to be excessive use of force. What are your views on that, and what is the policy in the Lexington police department?
Barnard: First of all, you have to have strong training. You have to have strong policies and procedures, and then checks and balances. All of our policies and procedures are CALEA-certified (Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies). That's an international entity that looks at your policies along with the International Association of Chiefs of Police and says you meet this national standard. We are the only agency our size in the United States that has met that gold standard three times in a row in our reaccreditation. So, I feel like we have great policies in place.
We are seeing officers that are targeted for not who they are but what they're wearing. We saw that in New York several times. We saw it in Pennsylvania. We have seen it across the country. And now, you have this whole other threat, which is an international threat of ISIS. So, there's a tremendous amount of pressure on law enforcement right now.
We have what we call the 'Ferguson Effect' in Baltimore, for example, where you see the officers have just sat down. They're not doing anything. Crime is skyrocketing. And truly innocent people are being victimized by criminals because law enforcement is not stepping in. We don't have that here. Our officers, we praise them when they're doing good. We correct it if we made a mistake, and we admit it, and we move on and build it better. So, when someone calls, the first mission is to be there and respond. And we focus on that pretty heavily. When you see this response level and the dedication of the officers, never quitting or stopping, it makes you proud to be part of an organization.
Martin: You're a big advocate of body cameras. Why, and what difference do you think they'll make?
Barnard: Body cams will tell the story. I think body cams are going to assist us in trials. It's called the "CSI effect." Jurors want to see the crime scene. We have 3-D scanners where we re-create the crime scene and can look at it as a 3-D image, but they want to see what actually happened, what occurred with the officer. And television has created that for us, so we have to live up to that standard.
Number two, it's an issue of trust in the community. I think it will demonstrate the level of proficiency of our officers. And if it brings out something that needs improvement, that's great because we want to improve.
Martin: Any changes or improvements you'd like to see?
Barnard: Our recruiting is so critical right now. When you go to Morehead State and you see the Dallas Police Department up there recruiting, you know you have to do something different. The days of recruiting for law enforcement by putting the commercial on TV or wrapping the bus are just over. So, we're looking at how to be more creative. We're working with Bullhorn Creative right now on an initiative to brand our agency to get out on social media.
Lexington is a diverse community; 119 different languages (are spoken) in our school system right now. That tells you how diverse our community has become. We have to be able to adapt to that.