Lexington Police Officer Howard Florence
When you can combine your passion and your career, going to work doesn’t seem so much like a job. That’s just what Lexington Police Officer Howard Florence has discovered. The Lexington native returned to his hometown after serving as a military policeman in the Army. An avid bike rider, Florence found his niche as the friendly face of downtown Lexington, reaching the community on a personal level and supporting fallen families all while riding his Cannondale.
I started out in the bureau of patrol and did that for probably 17 years. Seven years ago, I came downtown to be on bicycle patrol. I patrol the downtown area with six other officers on day shift and night shift. We are dedicated to just the downtown area of Lexington.
Bike riding is my hobby. I do more road biking than I do mountain biking. That’s what I like to do on my off time, so when I got to do that as part of my job, it’s a perfect combination for me. I like the interaction of being out of a car on the bike with people. I get much more one-on-one interaction than officers normally would. It’s very difficult for officers to do that in cars because of the nature of their job and what they have to do, so we are really able to reach out to the community and be of service.
Most of my day is giving directions, which is fine. Everybody has been somewhere where they don’t know where they’re going, and there’s nothing better than having a friendly face to be able to help you out. So I love that.
Because my hobby is bicycling, I’m always looking up different rides. I like to travel around the U.S. finding rides to do, and I kept seeing this Law Enforcement United bike ride come up that is during Police Week and always thought about doing it. Then I was contacted by Craig Sutter; he’s an officer at Nicholasville Police Department. He heard I liked to bike ride and wanted to know if I would join them. It was him, Ramon Pineiroa, myself and Amy Ellis, who is the widow of Jason Ellis, the Bardstown officer who was killed a couple years ago. Amy’s mother, Chris Phillips, also was on the team, and Ramon’s wife, Tonya, was our support-vehicle driver.
We traveled to Chesapeake, Va. on our first riding day and we did about 105 miles. The second day it’s about 85 miles, then the last day as you ride into D.C., it’s about 50. And they generally pick a different location for the ending point. It’s a fundraiser, so every rider is responsible for raising at least $1,500. Law Enforcement United supports Concerns of Police Survivors and the Officer Down Memorial Page, then this year they gave money to a group called Spirit of Blue, which is a 501c3. They help give money to police departments for equipment. This year, Law Enforcement United raised about $400,000 they were able to donate.
This year there were approximately 600 riders total. You either choose, or have assigned, a fallen officer from that year or from a previous year. If the families are there, they also are brought to the ending point. I rode for Kentucky State Police Trooper Eric Chrisman. I never had met his folks, but you meet the family there and get to spend some time with them. On the last few miles they give us all flags, and we present the family with a flag that has their officer’s name and end of watch.
We were contacted by Ashland Elementary School about a program with their fifth graders. They bussed in maybe 200 fifth graders and they all had bikes, so we put them on the Legacy Trail. We started at the Coldstream Park trail head and ended at the Kentucky Horse Park. That was fun seeing all the kids riding. I got to talk about bike safety and trying to get people to enjoy riding. Getting started in fifth grade if they like to ride, that’s good.
There are so many different areas in law enforcement for your career to go. Some people have an interest in dogs or horses. Some people really love detective work or the management part of it. Some people aspire to be a supervisor all the way up to the chief. For me, I really like interacting with people, being able to help people directly. Some people need long-term solutions, a lot of time I’m able to help in the short-term solutions, which is important too. So that’s why I really enjoy being outside and just trying to help. If someone is homeless, we’re able to get them into a shelter. If they have mental-illness problems, we’re able to get them the help they need so they don’t suffer. Then just the common thing of, ‘Where can I park?’ or, ‘Where’s the best hamburger place?’
Downtown here typically doesn’t have a serious drug issue. There are minor issues going on, but a bicycle for police work can be used for all kinds of different things. We can go into high-crime areas where we can observe more, we can be quieter, especially at night.
In order to ride a bicycle for the police department and be certified, there is a 40-hour class. I’m one of the instructors for it. A lot of officers hadn’t ridden a bike since they got their driver’s license. There’s nothing wrong with that, the police department just wants to make sure officers get experience on it. We have drills they practice and are tested on at the end. There’s a written test as well. We also train on the tactical side, like how to be able to fire your weapon when you’re on a bicycle. Learning how to ride down the street — there are all kinds of obstacles, and you have to be careful of car doors and traffic. It’s just like being in a car; you not only have to pay attention to what you’re doing, you are observing for other things you have to be focused on. If you haven’t done anything like that in 10 or 14 years, it’s good to have that training.
Lexington is a great community. I love the downtown environment, and I’m glad to be able to use my passion and my hobby in my job. I think I have the best job in the police department.