Community Focused, Ever Vigilant
As it does multiple times a day, the whistle of a passing freight train reverberates in the office of Wilmore Police Chief Bill Craig. The train tracks, which run through the heart of downtown, are 20-some yards from the police department, and it’s just something you get used to, he said.
“You really don’t notice it unless you’re trying to talk to someone,” the chief quipped.
Wilmore, nestled in southwestern Jessamine County, is a quintessential small town, often compared by locals to the fictitious North Carolina town of Mayberry. The Mayberry comparison produces a smirk on the face of the chief, who has served the city of Wilmore (population 6,200) in that role since 2012.
“I don’t mind being Mayberry, but I don’t want a bunch of Barney’s working for me,” he joked. “We don’t have that here. We’ve got good officers.”
Like the fictional Andy Taylor and Barney Fife, Wilmore officers enjoy an outstanding relationship with the community.
“We police our community in a positive way,” Craig said. “People aren’t afraid to come up and talk to us. My officers are very personable and approachable out in the field. People talk to them all the time and provide us with useful information.”
The community interaction is something Officer Sam Hensley is still getting used to. Hensley served as a deputy for the Orange County (Orlando, Fla.) Sheriff’s Office for several years and is nearing the completion of his first year as a Wilmore officer.
“I’ve never worked for a law enforcement agency that the community likes so much,” Hensley said. “They’re constantly bringing food into the station for no reason. They bring their kids up to take pictures with us at the station and when we’re out on patrol. It’s strange to get waved at and not flipped off.”
Don’t let the “Aw shucks” and laid-back nature of Wilmore deceive you. When it comes to policing, the department’s nine full-time and three part-time officers are pros.
To maintain a vigilant police force, Craig said his 11-officer staff (nine full-time, three part-time) constantly train.
“Training to me is a big thing,” Craig said. “It’s one of my largest budget items. I don’t just subscribe to the 40 hours of in-service. If there is anything I can provide to my officers, I will send them, as long as it benefits the department.”
To that end, Wilmore has one full-time and one part-time detective. In addition, the department has officers who are certified firearms instructor, point-of-contact drug-enforcement officer, an accident reconstructionist and a D.A.R.E. officer.
The drug-enforcement officer works with Jessamine County’s drug task force, whose membership also includes the sheriff’s office and Nicholasville Police Department, Craig said.
The task force is an example of how interagency communication is vital in today’s law enforcement.
“If you want to come in and build an ivory tower, you’re just cutting your own throat,” Craig said. “You’ve got to be willing to share information.
“Crime crosses so many boundaries,” Craig continued. “We’ve got people from Ohio and Michigan coming through here all the time that are big into drugs. We have a group called the ‘Detroit Boys’ that come through Wilmore, Nicholasville and Jessamine County all the time, and we’ve got to work together and be on the same page.”
While the occasional drug-related problem surfaces in Wilmore, the biggest headache in terms of crime are small, Craig said.
“We really don’t have anything major,” he said. “The biggest thing is probably thefts.”
However, given the toxic environment in today’s world, Wilmore has the potential of being a hot zone for a “crack-pot” who wants to make a statement, Craig said.
“We provide services to (Asbury) University, (Asbury) Theological Seminary and (Thomson-Hood) Veterans Center,” he said. “We have a Christian university, a theological seminary, and a veteran’s home. What better place to make a statement?”
Being aware and vigilant is paramount for his department, he said, adding that the police department works well with the three entities.
The agency’s social-media presence – primarily Facebook – has a specific goal in mind, Craig said.
“We want to let people in our community know what is going on,” the chief said. “We want to let people know we’re actually out here doing our job.”
Wilmore has also embraced the Reach Alert App to keep the public informed. Some of the uses include school closings, traffic flow and other informational items.
The department use of Basecamp 3 – a communications app – has been one of its best moves, Craig said. The app allows officers to keep abreast of what is going on whether they’re on or off duty.
“As far as communication is concerned, it’s one of the best things I’ve seen,” Craig said.
Office manager Kim Stewart researched the app, and the agency has been using it since early summer 2017.
“It’s an interagency communications app where we can pass along information,” Stewart said. “We can post documents, photographs and other things in a secure setting. It’s all cloud-based, and it’s a way we can notify all the officers at the same time.”
Another advantage of the app is it allows officers to keep track of their day.
“There is a module in it that helps officers track their daily activity and it gives them a brief look at what went on during their shift,” Stewart said.
Craig said the app affords him the luxury of not having to call in to see what is going on when he is off or out-of-town.
Like other agencies, his size, retention, and recruitment present many difficulties at times.
“Retention is probably the largest challenge,” Craig said. “It’s hard to send somebody to the academy because if you’re down an officer, you’re down quite a bit. Therefore, I try to hire veterans – seasoned officers. Not that I wouldn’t send somebody to the academy. It’s just easier, sometimes, (to hire veteran officers).”
Craig said with the exception of himself, a detective and a sergeant, most of his officers have been with the agency for a year to 18 months. Therefore, he understands the urge for officers to move on in their careers.
“We’re a small department, and advancement opportunities are limited,” he said. “You have a chief, a sergeant and maybe a lieutenant. So if an officer wants to go somewhere else, I have no problem with that.”
The Wilmore Police Department has been at its current staffing level for more than a decade, and given the economic climate, it’s hard to increase the number of officers or give the ones he has a significant pay raise.
“We have a great pro-police city government and they work as well as they can as far as the budget is concerned,” Craig said. “We don’t have any industry, per se. We are funded via payroll and property taxes. So we’re limited there in that regard.”
Reflecting on his agency and the community it serves, Craig is briefly interrupted by the noise of the train that barrels down the track outside his office window.
He collects his thoughts and says policing in a community that is pro-law enforcement is a prime reason his “highly-motivated” officers savor coming to work.
“I like the fact people refer to us as a quiet, small town with small-town charm,” Craig said. “If I go home at the end of the day and we’ve only had one call, I’m fine with that.”