Fayette County

Newly named chief strives to help college life

Joe Monroe has a stack of business cards on the edge of his desk that he needs to get rid of. The job title on the cards, "Interim Chief of Police," no longer applies.

Monroe recently became the permanent chief of University of Kentucky police after a three-year term as interim chief.

Monroe has worked toward his new position for the nearly two decades he has spent at universities.

"We feel like we've got the right person in place to stabilize this campus," said Anthany Beatty, UK's assistant vice president for campus services and a former Lexington police chief.

Monroe wants to focus his 100-plus person department on reaching out more to the tight campus community that he serves.

"You're more than just wearing a badge and enforcing laws," he said. "You're here to help people."

Monroe grew up in Cynthiana as one of four children. He attended Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tenn., where he earned a degree in hospital administration.

After graduation, Monroe couldn't find a job. He and his brother James decided to become police officers.

Monroe began his law enforcement career at Transylvania University in 1991. Three years later, he took a position in the UK police department, which has been his professional home ever since.

Monroe said he has wanted to be a police chief since he became an officer. He took what he said colleagues call the "boring" training classes that focused on leadership and management.

"It's paid off for me," Monroe said.

His goal was to make chief by the time he turned 40. He fell short by one year.

Things are a bit tamer on campus now than when Monroe joined the UK force, he said. Monroe worked mostly third shift when he began. He said he remembers when alcohol-fueled parties in neighborhoods surrounding campus would send hundreds of people out onto the streets. The parties led to fights, vandalism and a host of other problems for the police, Monroe said.

"Things have really clamped down on abusive drinking," he said.

Despite the raucous parties, Monroe said, he has always been drawn to the university police department setting, which provides a different challenge than city departments. At UK, Monroe has "28,000 students who basically feel like my own kids," he said.

"I kind of take it personal if something happens to one of them, because I feel like they're one of my own," Monroe said.

UK student body president Ryan Smith said Monroe is easy to work with and supports the efforts of the Student Government Association. Smith said Monroe immediately reached out to him when he was elected president in April to get students' perspectives on the police department.

"He's very concerned about getting student input on ways to improve relations between UKPD and the student body," Smith said.

Monroe said he wants to continue to reach out to the UK community next semester by organizing a student focus group to advise police. He would also like to start a "lunch with the chief" program that would give students, faculty and staff a chance to meet with Monroe one-on-one.

Monroe has also set goals for his officers. He wants officers to continue to volunteer in the community in their free time. He also wants to see his officers, many of whom are between 25 and 28 years old, go to school to continue their education. Monroe is currently pursuing his master's degree in criminal justice at Eastern Kentucky University.

"He cares about his people, even if it's making them do the right thing even though they don't want to," said Monroe's brother James, who is now a captain with the Danville Police Department. "He inspires quite a bit of loyalty in people that know him."