Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard announced on Thursday that he plans to retire early next year.
Barnard, who was named chief in 2014, will retire Jan. 7, 2018, according to the city. He has been with the department for 31 years.
“Lexington is one of the safest cities its size in the country,” Mayor Jim Gray said in a news release. “The Council and I place a top priority on public safety, and we have put resources in place that give our police the support they need to excel. Through Mark’s leadership and vision, they have excelled.”
Assistant Chief Ron Compton will serve as the interim chief until a new chief is named, according to a statement released Thursday afternoon.
In a letter, Barnard thanked Gray for his support and for the backing of members of the Urban County Council.
Barnard, 53, also outlined a number of programs and changes to the department that have been implemented since he became chief.
In his time as chief, the Lexington Police Department hired 239 new officers, and raised the sworn officer count of the department to 630 from 565, according to Barnard’s letter.
Barnard’s time as chief also saw the department’s narcotics enforcement unit double in size as a response to the “national emergency that is the opioid crisis,” he said in his letter.
Barnard credited Gray, the Urban County Council and the employees of the police department with the success of the programs and initiatives put into place during his time as chief.
“My successor will undoubtedly rely on the continued support and assistance of these dedicated employees to safeguard our long tradition of excellence, and continue to move the department forward,” Barnard said. “During the transition period, I will be available to assist the next Chief of Police in preparation to lead the Lexington Police Department.”
Councilman Kevin Stinnett said Barnard’s time as chief was full of changes, but that his constant willingness to keep council members in the loop helped the city move toward solutions.
“He’s probably had one of the toughest tenures of any of the chiefs that we’ve had,” Stinnett said.
Of all the programs brought to the department while Barnard was chief, Stinnett said he was most proud of the initiatives to mentor children. Barnard was the first to sign up for Lexington Bigs in Blue, part of the national Big Brothers Big Sisters program, he said.
Overall, Stinnett said Barnard has been a police officer first and has tried to do the right thing regardless of what might be “politically expedient.”
“I’ve seen him grow up through the ranks in the last 14 years, and he’s instilled a lot of new initiatives in the last three years that will serve our city in the long run,” Stinnett said. “He will be missed.”
In his retirement letter, Barnard said the department’s programs have led to a “low occurrence of violent crimes in comparison with cities of similar size.”
In 2017, Lexington has seen a record number of homicides with 28 people killed. The previous record of 27 homicide deaths was set in 1999 and tied in 2001.
In October, just after the city’s 28th homicide was reported, Barnard said that the majority of the slayings in Lexington this year have been the result of “involvement in high-risk criminal activities, ongoing disputes ... and domestic violence.” He also said that Lexington joins many cities across the country that are experiencing increases in drug abuse and violent crime.
The next police chief will be appointed by the mayor, and the council would have to approve the hire, city spokeswoman Susan Straub said. The exact interview process has not been decided yet, she said.
Barnard was unavailable for interviews Thursday afternoon.