Even Better Than Planned
When David Charles took over as Mount Sterling Police chief in 2011, he and his staff developed a detailed and rigorous five-year plan – nine months later they had tackled everything on their list and built another plan.
Having just finished his fifth year as chief, Charles and MSPD are finishing up their third ‘five-year plan,’ having successfully completed large-scale initiatives such as earning accreditation, moving to a new facility, beginning a K-9 unit, starting a chaplaincy service and engaging the community.
This type of initiative, passion and success characterize this eastern Kentucky department of 21 sworn officers who aren’t satisfied with status quo, but instead are committed to making the Mount Sterling Police Department one of the best-trained and capable agencies in the commonwealth.
“I always thought to myself if I ever had the chance to become chief, I’d like to see this and this and this – a list of things I’d like to see – and I tried to keep those in mind when I became chief,” Charles said.
But his drive to see bigger and better things stemmed from having served with the capable and forward-thinking department since 1991. Having come up through the ranks, Charles has had a hand in many of the major initiatives MSPD has undertaken in the past two decades.
“I came up in my career having done everything from writing parking tickets to working traffic,” Charles said.
He found one of his true passions when he was promoted to investigations sergeant in 1999. It was in this position Charles was directed by then-Chief Michael Schnell to create a narcotics unit.
“For an agency our size, that was unheard of,” Charles recalled about the undertaking. “Before the creation of this (unit) we contracted with task forces, which is a common practice. But having our own proved to be so much more reactive, and then that transitioned into being proactive.”
For an area heavily caught in the drug scourge sweeping across the commonwealth, the MSPD Narcotics Unit is a vital component in the agency’s fight to ensure the health and well-being of its community. In the unit’s first round up, they secured 177 indictments, Charles recalled. Through multiple successes, the unit has been able to stay in front of problems.
“When meth peaked, we’d already started our own clandestine lab response team so we could clean them up and not wait on other agencies,” Charles said. “We could get neighborhoods back together so much quicker.”
MSPD went on to create public forums and heroin conferences in conjunction with other state and federal agencies. Charles also serves as chairman of the Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Prevention Team (MCADAPT), which brings together entities from law enforcement, rehabilitation, health departments and private businesses to address these issues. The group has created a clearing house website where each entity lists its available services, information on signs of addiction to look for in family members and other forms of education, Charles said.
“[Drug addiction] is destroying generations,” Charles said. “We need to be more sympathetic as opposed to confrontational. Keep in mind, I have zero tolerance for trafficking narcotics, but those suffering from addiction are not the enemy. They are victims of the scourge, and we need to treat them as such.”
MCADAPT is just one of many boards and community groups with which Charles serves.
“I really enjoy being on the parks and recreation board and working with those avenues to help improve the community,” Charles said. “I love serving on the downtown board – it all comes back to making the community better.
Ensuring the police department is engrained in the community and having a positive impact is high on Charles’ priority list. Not only does he look for ways to plug into local groups and community partnerships, he encourages his officers to serve the community both in and out of uniform.
“Our officers participate in many community events,” Charles said. “We also encourage them to be mentors through youth coaching and scouts.
“We can’t look at it as us versus them because in reality it’s just us,” Charles continued. “When you try to marginalize or put people out in another boundary, you’ve set yourself up to fail.”
When Charles first took over as chief, he and his officers spent months going door to door to every residence in Mount Sterling, delivering flowers and introducing themselves, Officer Jason Perry said.
“We wanted to get the public involved and let them know what we’re doing,” Perry said. “[Chief Charles] got the community behind us, and they understand more about what we do than they used to.”
Perry’s main public relations tool is his four-legged partner, Dexter. Perry serves as MSPD’s first K-9 officer, and he and Dexter spend their days at local schools, churches and senior citizen centers performing demonstrations on everything from finding hidden drugs to bite work.
“One of the [demonstrations] the kids like is throwing my keys into a field and allowing Dexter to find them because he looks for articles,” Perry said. “They really get a kick out of that.”
Mount Sterling began its K-9 program in 2011. Since then, Perry says he and Dexter train hard and often in order to safeguard the future of the program.
“When the chief posted the position I was lucky enough to get it, and I want to do well to keep the program going,” Perry said. “I want to make sure the community, city hall and the department see the program as an asset because K-9s can find things we just can’t. Our officers know they can call anytime and, even if I’m off work, I can be there in 10 minutes.”
This camaraderie and dependability among officers are some of the department’s greatest strengths according to Charles and Perry.
“Our sense of family – everyone knows each other well, both strengths and weaknesses,” Charles said is the best part of working at MSPD.
“We have a great set of guys and everyone gets along,” Perry agreed. “We have an awesome chief. He’s for the officers. I could call the chief at any time and say this is the problem I’ve got and ask how to go about it, and he won’t hesitate to help. I can call any of the guys; we all have a good working relationship.”
Planning and Preparation
Perhaps Mount Sterling is best known for its Court Days Festival. Held each year during the third week of October, the festival brings 200,000 visitors to this town of only about 7,000 residents to buy, sell and trade goods.
“We do everything,” Charles said of the police department’s responsibilities for Court Days. “We are in charge of traffic, crowd control, general complaints, lost kids and adults, shoplifting, intoxicated subjects, domestic violence – it’s all there and it’s all ours.”
During the four day festival this past year, Charles said they handled 298 complaints specifically related to the festival. Court Days festivities keep department personnel hopping – requiring every officer to work 12-hour shifts all four days.
“It’s basically all hands on deck,” Charles said.
Charles says they have experienced and suffered through everything from large-scale accidents to officer injuries, to an Anthrax scare in the early 2000s, right after 9/11.
“We preplan the event every year and work with the local fire department, EMS and communication center,” Charles said. “We try to plan as completely as possible and then prepare for when things don’t go according to the plan.”
Thorough planning and training is second nature to the Mount Sterling Police Department, which believes that the minimum is not enough when it comes to training and preparing officers.
“You have to wear so many hats in law enforcement,” Charles said. “We encourage specialized training so we have experts on hand.”
The agency has accident reconstructionists, fully-trained crime-scene investigators and tactical narcotics response-trained officers.
In addition, MSPD conducts extensive in-house training – from eight firing range trainings each year, to all-inclusive policy and mass casualty trainings with local schools and hospitals. One day each week, every officer in the department is scheduled to work. These four days each month are designated for training, Charles said.
Sometimes it’s as simple as roll call training on a policy update, but Charles said if a policy is brand new, or detailed, a face-to-face training will take place to discuss the policy and what is expected from it and from officers in response. The new policy then is downloaded to each work station, where officers can keyword search when looking for specific policies, which is much more convenient for officers than going to the written policy books shelved in the department.
The department also runs the Kentucky League of Cities firearms simulator every year and sends instructors to train on it constantly.
“We are very into training,” Charles said. “Though it can be a burden at times on a short-term basis, long term it helps the agency and the people because it gives them knowledge and ability to do their job and a sense of self worth as well.”
Being well trained and always seeking to be the best to provide the best to their community has been instrumental in MSPD’s involvement in the Bluegrass and Central Kentucky Unified Police Protection System. BACKUPPS began in 2014 to create shared jurisdiction between central Kentucky agencies. As one of the program’s original members, MSPD has watched the program take off — and Charles deems it a huge success.
“The level of communication and cooperation among agencies is off the charts now,” Charles said. “We’ve had so many success stories it’s hard to get them all in. I think it will improve law enforcement if it continues in the direction it is going, and 10 years from now it will be hard to imagine law enforcement before this took place.”
The Mount Sterling Police Department continues to push full steam ahead, looking for new programs to implement, improved ways to bolster officer skills through training and innovative ways to engage the community to which they are committed.
“I love being able to help people and work within the community to solve problems,” Charles said. “I still love what I do.”