Pride & Policing
From left, Maysville Police Chief Ron Rice, MPD Lt. Jeremy Poe, MPD Maj. Jared Muse and MPD Lt. Mike Palmer. (Photo by Jim Robertson)
Maysville is a community rich with history, character and pride – and the law enforcement officers who police it are no different.
The 22-square miles of Maysville are situated along the Ohio River in northeastern Kentucky. In fact, only 19 of the miles Maysville Police Department is responsible for are on land. The county seat of Mason County, Maysville is home to roughly 9,000 residents.
The unique geography of the city can be a challenge for the 25-officer department, with the community divided into a valley along the river and steep hills overlooking downtown. But facing down challenges are part of the job for this agency.
One of the most significant challenges in Maysville is one echoed around the state – the need for more officers on the road, said Maysville Police Chief Ron Rice. To compensate, many department members – sworn and civilian – juggle multiple responsibilities to ensure Maysville has all the programs and services the agency can provide.
Challenges and Communication
Pursuing and overcoming challenges is what brought MPD Lt. Mike Palmer into law enforcement 16 years ago with Maysville. The Lexington native served a tour in Iraq with the National Guard and worked in both domestic and international freight before pursuing a career in law enforcement in his early 30s, he said.
“Transportation was a challenge, it just wasn’t the challenge I was looking for,” Palmer said. “I was fortunate enough that (former MPD Chief) Van Ingram hired me. I have just accepted every challenge put forth and have been fortunate enough to be successful at it.”
It’s hard to say where you might find Palmer during his shift. The veteran lieutenant serves as the administrative supervisor for the MPD Emergency Response Team, the communications supervisor for the E-911 center and is often providing training to area churches, schools and community groups.
“When I was a detective, the chief then basically said, ‘You’re going to go out and start speaking,’” Palmer recalled. “So I started doing a workplace violence training that now has evolved into active-shooter training.”
The agency’s chaplain, Tony Liess, invited Palmer to speak to community churches and, after the fall 2017 mass shooting of Texas congregation, Rice said many other churches began calling for guidance in maintaining safety within their sanctuaries.
“I expanded it to not focus on just active shooters,” Palmer said. “I want to make sure the church is ready for any type of emergency, like fires or tornados. Maysville has a lot of churches where the congregations are older. So, who is going to get Sally from the front row, who is on a walker? Who is going to get the mentally-challenged individual who doesn’t understand what’s going on? I try to encompass all of that.”
Palmer emphasizes that the training is not intended to intimidate or scare anyone, but that being a small town, tight-knit community does not mean violence or disaster cannot happen in Maysville. Palmer teaches the “run, hide, fight” program created by the city of Houston, Texas, and does his best to give listeners an idea of what to expect in an emergency, he said.
“The three things I touch on are that they have to be aware of their surroundings, at some point, they have to be their own success story, and that they can survive this,” Palmer said.
“When (the community) sees what’s happening in the news, it’s a good feeling to know that they will reach out to the Maysville Police Department and the officers respond in kind,” Rice said of the training. “What’s great is when I get the feedback from people who attended the training. Whether on the street, or at the Rotary Club or wherever, people stop me and say, ‘Hey your guys did a great job, I just want to let you know.’”
While the community training is a challenge Palmer enjoys the bigger challenge in his career, he said, has been assuming supervision of the E-911 center.
“I went from supervising officers to supervising civilians,” Palmer said. “That was one challenge, and two, I’m almost 50 years old, I’m not a technology person. My kids know more about technology than I do. But I’ve learned, because I let it challenge me to learn.”
The dispatch center has upgraded to an AT&T Airbus 911 system and upgraded the Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) system that was roughly 15 years old. Palmer, with the dispatch center’s Terminal Agency Coordinator, David Mefford, have worked together with other dispatchers and communities to ensure a successful transition.
The E-911 center dispatches not only for Maysville Police, but also for Maysville Fire Department, the Mason County Sheriff’s Office, Mason County EMS and seven volunteer fire departments, Palmer said. The center employs eight full-time and two part-time dispatchers.
The dispatch center is housed within the police department, and Mefford said it is not uncommon for officers to stop in and talk about a call with dispatchers.
“We can learn from that,” Mefford said. “It’s an informal debriefing, so to speak. Something they heard or said might be something we may think about asking the next caller. When you’re just standing there talking, you might think, ‘Well, we’re just talking about the call.’ But, in the back of your mind, you are kind of sorting it all out and thinking, ‘OK, I can do this the next time.’”
Palmer said these interactions between officers and dispatchers allow dispatchers closure after hearing the resolution of an incident that started with the dispatcher answering the phone. It also helps officers get a better understanding of the challenges within the 911 center.
“Some officers will say, ‘Well, they didn’t give me this or they didn’t give me that,’” Palmer said of the dispatchers. “You know what? I can put you in there just as easily and let you try to decipher and get that information. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it’s not.
“We depend on these dispatchers to get us as much information as possible from somebody in a traumatic situation in a short period of time, then get it back out on the radio,” Palmer continued. “I’ve been guilty on the other side of saying, “I didn’t get this or that.” But if you spend some time looking at the nuts and bolts of it, you’d be really appreciative of what we’ve got. We have a good crew.”
While Maysville may have fewer than 10,000 residents, Rice said the daytime population of the community is significantly larger. All of the county schools are inside the city limits, as is the local hospital, several factories and other businesses that bring people into town.
Like many communities, Maysville also is known for a multitude of festivals and activities that often draw large crowds. From Oktoberfest and the Pig Out BBQ festival, to multiple 5K races and the annual Christmas parade, Rice said the agency is always involved to ensure a safe and fun environment.
“You have to go back to the climate of today,” Rice said. “Any time you get a large gathering of people, it’s considered a soft target. Unfortunately, those are the times we live in. We want people to come to Maysville and have a good time and enjoy themselves. Sometimes when people go to festivals, they get a little too much to drink and alcohol causes some problems. Most of the time they are minor; you can separate people and send them on their way. Very few of them escalate into much bigger things.”
The MPD bike patrol is instrumental in safeguarding the different community activities, among others, Rice said. Weather permitting, the bike patrol also works together with the agency’s three detectives to provide a stealthier mode of transportation for drug interdiction and other investigations.
“We also have two K-9 officers and both dogs are certified and trained in narcotics detection,” Rice said. “Of course, they are also patrol dogs and will assist with the bad guys and are trained in tracking.”
Illegal drugs are an issue in Maysville like everywhere else, Rice said, and it is not uncommon to see them come across the bridge from Ohio. From crystal meth to heroin laced with fentanyl, investigators have seen it all.
“Recently, we had our first infant overdose where some folks from Ohio were staying at a local hotel,” Rice said. “They dropped some of their heroin and their 2-year-old got it. Initially, when first responders arrived, the child was unresponsive, but they were able to administer naloxone. The great thing is that after being on a naloxone drip for most of that weekend at Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati, the child has been discharged and is doing fine.”
All Maysville officers carry naloxone, a proactive initiative Rice said the department and local Agency for Substance Abuse Policy board pursued and successfully obtained a grant to purchase the medication and train first responders on its administration.
“We were kind of patting ourselves on the back that we were one of the first to take the lead to go to this training, write a policy carry and use naloxone,” Rice said. “That was done in March 2016 and by April 2016, the officers had their first responders on the scene for a potential overdose.”
Maysville also secured a grant for a drug collection unit drop box and houses the only 24-hour unit in Mason County, Rice said, for residents to drop off unwanted, unused or expired medications.
“It hopefully gets them out of the hands of children and teenagers,” he said.
MPD’s commitment to the young people in its community extends well beyond its measures to keep them off drugs. It starts with a personal approach that gets officers in all of the community schools on a regular basis, Rice said.
As part of the adopt-a-school program, MPD officers either select or are assigned a school that becomes their responsibility. How they interact with that school is largely up to them, but Rice said they are asked to visit their schools during their shift.
“If you’re working your shift and your school is in your sector, you should be in that school zone that morning or in the afternoon,” Rice said. “Check in with someone in the office and walk the halls.”
Rice himself participates in the program by adopting a local elementary school and the high school.
“When I go to Straub Elementary, it’s just amazing sometimes,” he said. “I go in and the teachers have the children lined up in the halls going to lunch or something and they all have their little fingers on their lips (to be quiet). I go by and they all want to wave.”
Calls permitting, Rice said officers are encouraged to attend sporting events or stop in for a Parent Teacher Organization meeting.
“Several of these officers have children in these schools and want to go anyway,” Rice said. “If nothing is going on at the time and the sergeant is perceptive enough to let that officer callout at whatever school they are assigned, they are able to go participate in their child’s function and be a part of the adopt-a-school program.”