July 5, 2016 - He started with the Lexington Police Department in 1989. In more than a quarter century of service to the city, Assistant Chief Lawrence Weathers worked in Patrol, Narcotics, Fourth Platoon, Internal Affairs, Training, Special Operations and in Community Services as a D.A.R.E. officer. As Chief Weathers prepared to retire from the police department on July 1, he talked about what those years of service taught him about community policing.
Q: How does it feel to be retiring from the Lexington Police Department?
LW: I’ve been here more than half my life, so it’s not easy leaving. Everybody that’s here now, including the chief and assistant chiefs, I kinda grew up with. So it’s almost like you’re leaving part of your family or your best friends to move to another location. You know you’ll see them, but you won’t see them as much.
Q: What made you want to become a police officer?
LW: Honestly, there was an ad in the paper. And they were hiring. I worked at a locally owned tool company and they didn’t have health benefits. A City job did have health benefits. And when I applied for the job, my cousin applied, too. He had always wanted to be a police officer but I didn’t know anything about it. We went to the University of Kentucky White Hall classroom to take the test. There were 1,300 people taking the test for twelve spots. We both got in.
Q: You’ve worked in several parts of the department. Is there a section that you liked more than others?
LW: To be quite honest with you, all of them were fine. They were all different enough to where you learn a lot of things. And I used to tell my supervisors at the time when I was in Community Services, every officer should rotate through Community Services. You’re looked at differently by citizens. And officers don’t realize that there are a lot of people out there that want you there because they see you as an important part of the community. So I enjoyed that.
Going into Narcotics, you look at that as sort of an enforcement position, but you’ve got a chance to help people there, too. In the time I spent there, I got to see people go to jail, get out and re-offend. So you get an understanding that addiction is something powerful that people can’t get over by themselves. So you make partnerships to try to help people get around that.
On Fourth Platoon, we could really do targeted enforcement to help. There were a lot of community-oriented policing ideas that came out of that. You got to work with people in the community to address specific crime problems. We worked in Bluegrass Aspendale and Charlotte Court. And one of the things that came out of that was crime prevention through environmental design.
So Bluegrass Aspendale started changing, Charlotte Court started changing to what those areas are today. I remember there was a basketball court that was just notorious for drug dealing, and I bought drugs up there several times doing undercover buys. And the chief then, which was Chief Walsh, decided, “let’s get rid of the basketball court.” It caused such an uproar, and we learned from that. We learned that [police] can’t just go in and do something, we’ve got to have community buy-in.
I can’t pick just one unit. I’ve learned something and enjoyed each and every place that I’ve been.
Q: How have you seen this department change over the years?
LW: Well, when I first started, management was kind of loose. That was just the style that was there for policing. I think policing probably wasn’t looked at as the profession that it is today. Chief Larry Walsh took us to a more professional, militaristic kind of look. After that, Chief Anthany Beatty came from community services background, so he was more interactive with people. With Chief Ronnie Bastin, we went more for reaching out not just to the people we serve but reaching out to partners who could help us develop things more. And that was very educational. And of course Chief Mark Barnard is continuing that and building on that.
Now we’re more in an information age. Getting your message out in a timely fashion and getting the right message out so people can’t misconstrue or twist it is the most important thing today. And police can’t be reactive, for sure. I think in the past, that lag allowed us to be reactive. You can’t be reactive, you have to see things coming and be able to anticipate it and jump on it before something becomes big.
Q: How do you think the community’s perception of police has evolved in Lexington?
LW: I think what the perception is now, unfortunately, is because you do have all these information sources. [Police] don’t interact with the public on a personal level as much as we probably should.
So now the image of a police officer is whatever New York City is doing, whatever L.A. is doing. And it all comes back to us. But because we fostered and built some of those relationships, we have people stepping up to defend us. And I only say that because I see that happening here.
Q: Did you ever imagine that you would be an assistant chief of the Lexington Police Department?
LW: [laughs] No. I kid Assistant Chief Ron Compton all the time. I told him, “Whatever I do, you’re responsible for because it’s your fault.” We came on in the same class. When it was time to take the sergeant’s test he said, “If you don’t like the way things are running, the best way to change things is to change from within.” So we both took the test and both got promoted.
I always just tried to be in the moment that I was in. If something, happened, it happened. If it didn’t, it didn’t.
Q: What advice do you give to younger officers?
LW: I tell them to remember that police are chosen from the community that they serve and that they’re always part of that community, whether they live in Lexington or not. And they have to remember that, and they have to act accordingly. The expectations for them are a lot higher. I tell them, “You’re a crime fighter, you’re a suppressor of evil. But what does that mean?”
It means you’re there to protect people. You’re the guardian. Your job is to suppress crime. To keep people safe. If that doesn’t work, they you gotta fight it. But make no mistake, people would rather people would rather not put you in a position of fighting crime, they would keep you in the position of keeping that stuff from happening.
And that’s what I tell them. Your job is to make sure nothing happens. If you have a night where nothing happens, you’re doing your job. That’s your goal: to have a night where nothing happens.
Q: You’re jumping into a whole new job as the head of school law enforcement for Fayette County Public Schools.
LW: I never wanted to be one of the professional police chiefs you see that go from city to city and straighten out departments and then move on. This job [at FCPS] came open at the right time and still allows me to stay here locally. It has some things that I find really interesting, working with kids and the community.