Forty-eight Lexington police recruits walked off the graduation stage as police officers Thursday, and the city's police chief says they're hitting the streets at a time when the nation faces an uptick in violent crime.
At the ceremony, moved to a bigger venue to accommodate the largest recruit class in the department’s history, it wasn’t just participants wearing uniforms.
"I ask everyone when they put an application in 'Why Lexington?' and one of the officers said my father is a police officer and I want to come to another agency so I can demonstrate that I'm as good a man as he is," chief Mark Barnard said.
The chief was referring to Andrew Miller and his father, Malcolm Miller, a sergeant with 18 years under his belt on the force in Louisville. The elder Miller was invited on stage to pin the badge on his son, an experience he later described as a surreal but "proud moment."
Yet he’s clear-eyed about the pressures of police work, having patrolled high-crime neighborhoods in Louisville.
"I've endured quite a bit and some of the things that maybe he'll experience too, but he has me to rely on to be able to maybe give him... some added guidance," Sgt. Miller said.
Chief Barnard said Thursday’s new class brings Lexington about on par with the needs of a growing city, but he looks forward to adding 30 more officers during the next fiscal year – with an eye toward creating a new fourth sector. Those new officers will encounter twin challenges: rising violent crime rates driven in large part by heroin and drug addiction, and national incidents that have left many skeptical of police practices.
That’s made recruiting more difficult, but Barnard’s advice to young officers is simple: take advantage of every opportunity to build community trust.
"We've gone to places we haven't been," he explains. "Liberal arts schools in the past, different businesses, organizations, and showing in this career there's all sorts of things that you can do. You don't have to be in this uniform and ride around in a car all day, which was the perception."
With the planned authorized force increases, the department would jump to 660.