As a boy growing up in Mount Sterling, Mark Barnard dreamed about three possible career tracks later in life: becoming a priest, a game warden or a police officer.
On Monday morning, Barnard moved to the pinnacle of one of those three tracks. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray announced that Barnard, a 28-year veteran of the Lexington police force, would be the city's next top cop.
Barnard, 50, flanked by his wife, Gaye, and daughters Elizabeth, 21, and Caroline, 24, told the Herald-Leader on Tuesday that his passion for policing comes from his willingness to serve. He said his plans as chief will be to build upon a department that's a "well-oiled machine." And he said a good police officer and department rely on input from the community and good communication.
"I always wanted to serve," he said. "I thought that law enforcement was really the best way to help people in a diverse way. ... That's kind of the core of who I am and what I wanted to do."
In nearly three decades on the force, Barnard worked his way through the ranks, starting out as a patrolman. He was promoted in 1994 as a sergeant in patrol, then spent time in property crimes and in the department's Robbery/Homicide Unit. Barnard noted his time spent in the unit corresponded with his "trouble years" as a father and an officer.
Elizabeth and Caroline on Tuesday laughed as they reminisced about sneaking in to watch an interrogation and telling their dad afterward: "You were yelling. You're mean."
Barnard, who most recently has been an assistant chief over the Bureau of Investigation, is inheriting a department that has more than 700 employees, including police officers and civilian workers, who are "selfless," he said.
He said he understands the importance of his new role as chief as national attention has centered around police tactics, weaponry and policing after some questioned the July 17 choking death of Eric Garner by Staten Island police officer Daniel Pantaleo and the Aug. 9 shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson, Mo., police Officer Darren Wilson.
Barnard teaches at his alma mater, Eastern Kentucky University, where he earned bachelor's and master's degrees. He said he has thought a lot about how the problems surrounding the deaths of Brown and Garner — and the weekend assassinations of New York police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu by Ismaaiyl Brinsley, 28, who later committed suicide — might affect Lexington.
Being a police officer is a dangerous job, and it's difficult, requiring a multitude of techniques needed to address trouble that may arise, Barnard said.
"We interact with some of the most dangerous parts of society; we have to have the right tools," Barnard said. "Those tools are training. Training is much different from education. Training teaches you how to respond to the stimuli, where education teaches you how to problem-solve, critical think, interact with people. But you have to be constantly vigilant of your surroundings and what's going on."
Police departments, he said, have to "make sure we work with leadership in the community, saying 'Here's what we're doing. Here's how we're reacting to it. Let us know what you think. Is there something we need to modify or change?' ... If something like that happened here, I hope our community leadership and government leadership and public safety leadership would all stand together. If we make mistakes, we correct them."
Barnard was named Lexington's new chief this week by Gray, who appointed a committee to help find a new chief after current chief Ronnie Bastin was promoted to public safety commissioner on Dec. 2.
Barnard and Assistant Chief Lawrence Weathers were the two internal candidates who applied for the job. Weathers heads the Bureau of Special Operations. The two external applicants were Dwayne Depp of Frankfort and Terri Wilfong of Greenville, S.C.
Bastin, who will retire from the police department on Jan. 1 and then move to a new office across the street in the Urban County Government Center, applauded the decision to appoint Barnard as his successor Tuesday.
"Chief Barnard has a strong leadership foundation, and is well prepared to lead the division in the future. I am very proud of him and look forward to working with him," Bastin said.
Monday's announcement was greeted with pleasure by Barnard's family. "It's a profession that we can be proud of as well," said Gaye, a physical therapist. "Mark being a police officer has taught the girls a lot of things. He's probably the most generous person I know ... I think his personality meshes well with his profession. He's doing the right job."
Barnard will take over as police chief Jan. 12. He said there will be a learning curve, and that change sometimes creates an uneasy feeling. He sent an email notifying police personnel that he doesn't plan to make any changes to the department's structure, which was implemented by Bastin. It focuses on leadership, allowing commanders and assistant chiefs to make decisions. One or two personnel changes might be a possibility, he said, but the department won't be going in a "different direction."
"We're an open agency," he said. "We're a quality of life agency ... We're one of the best, (with) well-trained, quality officers, in the United States ... I think our officers enjoy doing their work, and I want them to enjoy doing their work. And I know families sacrifice a lot, and we appreciate their sacrifice."