From Horses to Angels
Led by Chief Mike Bosse, the Georgetown Police Department employs 55 sworn officers, four support staff and 20 communication center staff. Bosse has led the department since 2012. (Photo by Jim Robertson)
In Kentucky, Georgetown is likely known best as home of the world’s largest Toyota manufacturing center in the country, employing nearly 10,000 people and constructing more than 550,000 Camry, Avalon and Lexus vehicles annually.
But the community’s lush horse farms and historic downtown offer a charm and culture that make the community of more than 33,000 residents much more than an industrial town. The seventh-largest city in the commonwealth, Georgetown also is home to Georgetown College, a private liberal arts college that previously hosted the Cincinnati Bengals football training camp for more than 15 years.
Georgetown Police Chief Mike Bosse was drawn to Georgetown by the challenge of growing and improving a department close to his hometown, he said. After retiring as assistant chief of the Lexington Police Department, Bosse wasn’t ready to hang up his gun belt just yet. Georgetown was his perfect fit.
“I wasn’t done with my police career, although I felt those young, hungry guys creeping up on me in Lexington,” Bosse said with a laugh. “I have always loved the challenge of taking something and making it better. I don’t think I would have been comfortable coming into an agency that was all squared away and there was nothing for me to do, change or look into. Even in Lexington, I would often get the positions where a change was needed, and I like that challenge of making it work. It’s kept me interested in the job.”
Since he was sworn in as chief in April 2012, Bosse said GPD’s staff have worked tirelessly to strengthen the department and what it offers the community.
“This is a success story,” Bosse said. “It went from something they were not proud of to something they are very proud of today. They have seen the benefits of their hard work, too. Not just in pay, but they have seen it in this building, in the fleet they drive and in the respect they get from the public.”
Bosse beamed with pride as he walked through the agency’s $5 million facility designed with the needs of law enforcement and the community in mind. Completed in 2015, Bosse credited the building construction – like most of the department’s successes – to the commitment and diligence of his ranks.
“It has been key to that final piece of pride,” Bosse said of the building. “Before, [the officers] would say, ‘I never even brought my family to those buildings we worked out of because I didn’t want my family to know this was where I worked.’ It has been that final piece where they can say, ‘This is something I can be proud of.’ And I always remind them there is no way (the community) would have invested this much in them if they didn’t believe in what they were doing. They stepped up to make the investment worth it. They earned it.”
One space Bosse is particularly proud of is the fitness facility housed within the department. Nearly all the equipment in the gym was acquired through military surplus – some of which was still in the original boxes when it arrived in Georgetown. One large piece of equipment was donated to the agency by their Citizens’ Police Academy graduates.
“We pride ourselves on being fiscally responsible and trying to save as much as we can,” the chief said. “We also emphasize fitness, and the officers can come in here and work out, either using the weights or the aerobic machines.”
Georgetown’s authorized strength includes 57 sworn positions and four support staff. The department is responsible for the communication center, which employees 20 additional staff members, Bosse said.
The majority of GPD’s officers are assigned within the patrol section or criminal investigations. However, the department offers a wide variety of specialized units including an honor guard, special-response team, bicycle patrol, training, K-9s – even an aviation unit.
The newest unit under development, though, would put Georgetown on the map as only the third department in the commonwealth to operate one – a mounted patrol. Georgetown Officer Jay Johnson is leading the charge behind the unit after approaching Bosse with the idea. The program is currently in the fundraising stage, as the department plans to launch and operate the program at no cost to the city.
“We just had an auction that netted more than $10,000 for the program, just based off of horse-racing memorabilia,” Johnson said. “American Pharaoh, California Chrome, Silver Charm – all those horses helped fund our program (through the auction). I thought that was cool. I have a background in horse racing. I studied equine science in school and always wanted to figure out a way to do both things I love. My passion is horse racing and what I love is policing, so I said, ‘Why not?’”
Johnson hopes to begin the program with two horses, with aspirations of employing four in the future. GPD is partnering with the Kentucky Horse Park, Lexington Police’s mounted unit and Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farms, an organization in Georgetown where horses retire from racing, yet still have long lives still ahead of them. Johnson said many talented horses are retired from the track between 2 and 4 years of age and still want to work. Partnering with Old Friends allows these horses another chance at life instead of turning them out to pasture.
“So far everybody has been very happy and wants to see this program succeed,” Johnson said. “I think if not spring, then early summer 2019 we should have horses to send off for training. We already have schools calling wanting to know when the horses are going to be here.”
The horses ultimately will be one of the many options the department has for community public relations – much like their drone and robot are now.
GPD’s drone was purchased a little more than a year ago after an officer within the department approached him about his vision for how it could be used in law enforcement, Bosse said.
“Within a week of having that piece of equipment, we responded to a couple burglars who were hiding on the roof of a store,” he said. “Instead of calling the fire department and peeking over the ledge, we took the drone up and were able to verify both suspects on the roof. We also responded to a train wreck and, very shortly into that event, we were able to take the drone up to go down the tracks, without sending human beings, to see if there were any leaks or damage. We got good information quickly.”
GPD Lt. Philip Halley said the drone and robot are a hit with kids, too.
“We have taken them to a couple demos,” he said. “Recently we worked together with Woodford County’s DARE program fun day and the fifth graders who got to see it thought it was a hoot.”
The robot, more affectionately known as Johnny 5 (yes, of the “Short Circuit” movie fame), also was obtained at no cost from military surplus less than four years ago, Halley said. When not assisting with community relations, Johnny 5 also has been put to practical use. The robot is agile, with the ability to climb stairs and look under vehicle carriages, while relaying information safely to officers using its thermal imaging camera.
“Risk reduction is what it’s all about,” Halley said. “We can gather intelligence in advance of human beings having to be put at risk.”
One new way GPD is improving relationships with the Georgetown community isn’t through the traditional sense of public relations, Bosse said. It’s through a program designed as an outreach to drug users.
“Every community is under a little pressure when citizens ask, ‘What are you doing about the opioid crisis?” Bosse said. “You need to have a response to that question.”
Georgetown’s response is through Victims’ Advocate Megan Shook, who coordinates the agency’s Angel Program. Since September 2017, Bosse said 19 drug users have voluntarily walked into the police department and asked for help with their addiction without fear of criminal prosecution.
“We have four officers who assist (Shook), who are here full time,” he said. “Anyone can come into the police department and request us to help them find treatment. They can bring their paraphernalia and drugs, and we will book it and the individuals won’t be charged with their possession. We will help find them a treatment facility that day and take them to that facility. We are getting a lot of questions from other agencies wanting to know how to put together something like this.”
Shook’s background is in counseling and social work, not law enforcement, she said. Working within the walls of the police department and putting the two professions together has been interesting for her. Due to a lack of resources statewide for drug users seeking help, Shook said she enjoys helping people in crisis find resources they might not have known about on their own.
“You have one part of the community who trust the police for everything,” Shook said. “And you have another part of the community who have had [negative] interactions with the police, and it’s letting them see the police department in a whole different way. When they come in for the Angel Program, they’re scared to come in here. But then they see not just me, but also the officers interacting with them in a new light. Hopefully, that spreads to the next situation they might need help with.”
Shook also assists with domestic-violence and sexual-assault cases, for example, when officers need another hand to help victims in crisis, Bosse said.
“Megan adds that extra service to the victims to make them feel comfortable even though they have been through something traumatic,” he said. “Our officers learn a lot from Megan, too, about how to talk to victims and through working with our Angel Program. Our officers rarely have this kind of contact with [drug users]. They typically put them in the car and take them to jail.
“Now they are hearing their stories, hearing how the person came to be in their situation and taking an active role in finding them some resources,” Bosse continued. “They learn these are human beings who had some things unfold in their lives that may have been different from mine or theirs. It’s a huge educational piece.