As a Lexington police officer, Debbie Wagner played in a band to raise awareness about substance abuse, taught the community about law enforcement and influenced many.
Wagner retired this month, and on Friday the Lexington Fraternal Order of Police building was packed with people celebrating her time serving the community.
People waited in line to give Wagner a hug and wish her well. Some shared memories of time on the police force, and others talked about the Citizen Police Academy, a program that has taught thousands of people what it means to be a police officer.
Wagner said her police career began in 1978 with a classified advertisement in the Herald-Leader. Since then, she said she has loved the chance to “be able to help people during hard times.”
Being a police officer is about protecting, Wagner said. But it’s also about helping people when they need it most by helping them find the resources they need.
“It’s about having a servant’s heart to God,” Wagner said. “People know when you’re doing it for the right reasons. They know when you care and show respect.”
Outreach to the community has always been important to Wagner. In 1993, she organized the DARE 911 Band, which used rock music to spread an anti-drug message to area schools.
Wagner also helped start the Citizen Police Academy. Since teaching the first class in 1997, Wagner has taught 54 classes and 2,500 people.
“When you have people who don’t trust the police and won’t call, there’s a problem,” Wagner said. “So we opened a partnership with the community and police.”
Sandra Heymann-Wolf and Darlene Hickman were in the first Citizen Police Academy class, and they both came to celebrate with Wagner at her retirement party.
“It gets embedded — you want to help your community, to serve it,” Heymann-Wolf said.
In fact, several in the first class wanted to stay involved. So Wagner and Heymann-Wolf decided while having lunch that they wanted to create the Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association.
“We just decided, we can’t let this die, we have to keep this going,” Heymann-Wolf said. “We wrote the bylaws on a napkin at that table.”
Much like the academy graduates in the association, Wagner said she’s a “lifelong member” and will continue in the program.
“They’re my family,” Wagner said. “We’ve been through deaths, births, weddings.”
When Hickman’s mother died, she said Wagner called her multiple times throughout the day to check on her.
Wagner will not be slowing down after her retirement, she said. She’ll continue helping with the academy and at her church, the Cathedral of Christ the King.
“God gives us all special gifts,” Wagner said. “But they’re not for us; it’s our duty to share them.”