Fayette County

Over coffee, Lexingtonians discuss concerns with police chief

Marilyn Dishman, left, made a point as Anne Wood and Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard listened during Friday’s “Coffee with the Chief” session at Third Street Stuff.
Marilyn Dishman, left, made a point as Anne Wood and Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard listened during Friday’s “Coffee with the Chief” session at Third Street Stuff. gkocher1@herald-leader.com

Body cameras, community policing and officer recruitment were among the topics discussed Friday with Lexington Police Chief Mark Barnard during an informal “Coffee with the Chief” session.

The free-wheeling hourlong question-and-answer session with 10 residents at Third Street Stuff was the latest in a series of such meetings that Barnard has attended since he became chief in January 2015. The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Human Rights Commission holds the sessions every other month.

The first round of body cameras will be issued to 75 Lexington officers in mid-August.

“It’s a big step for us,” Barnard said. “It’s a $2.6 million investment over the next five years.”

Bardstown police recently said they will no longer use body cameras, citing technical difficulties. Lexington police did “due diligence” to make sure they got what they wanted from the supplier, Taser International, Barnard said.

But there are other concerns, such as what images should be granted through open-records requests.

“I think there will be a lot of privacy issues that will be played out in the courts,” Barnard said. “You could have your worst day … and then there it is (in public), and in our society, people are so judgmental, but that’s the way you’re portrayed and you’re put on Facebook, and it’s not the true representation of someone.”

George Watkins asked what programs Lexington police had to be more “community friendly” so that youths can get to know individual officers.

“We are doing more interaction now than we ever have,” Barnard said. The police department sponsors two academic teams, created a “parks ambassadors” program to put more officers in public parks, and put more Drug Abuse Resistance Education officers in schools, he said.

Through interaction with fifth-graders on a trip to Frankfort, police learned that some students “had never seen an airplane land, and they did not know there was a castle near Lexington.”

The point, Barnard said, “is if you want that child to be more successful, we have to invest in making sure they see more than Georgetown Street and Douglass Park.”

Barnard was asked about the recruitment process for new officers. One person expressed concern that an officer candidate can be disqualified because of a minor infraction. Barnard said such candidates can ask to have an opportunity to explain the nature of the infraction.

“Let’s be honest: The squeaky clean people usually have not had to overcome a lot of stuff in their lives,” Barnard said. “So they don’t always make the best candidates because this job is grueling, it’s difficult, and you have to have some foundation to get through this type of work. And the people who have shown an ability to overcome crises … are some of the best candidates that we have.”

Barnard said that small group meetings, such as the one Friday at Third Street Stuff, tend to be the most beneficial “because the people showing up are really listening. And I never mind doing it.”

Barnard said he appreciates that various groups are willing to sit down and talk about concerns.

“I’m everyone’s chief. I don’t get to pick and choose,” Barnard said. During one meeting, he learned that some Latino women in Lexington are reluctant to report domestic assaults “because they were afraid the police were going to deport them.”

“I work for victims,” Barnard said. “I’m not a deportation agency. And if you’re a victim in Fayette County, and something is happening to your children or to you, it’s my responsibility to protect you.”

Marilyn Dishman said Barnard “is very willing to reach out to the community, which I think is beautiful and I appreciate that.

“You can tell he is sincere, which I think is important.”