Celebrating 50 Years as Kentucky’s First Police Authority
Lakeside Park-Crestview Hills Police Chief Christopher Schutte has served the agency since 1996. He has been chief since 2012. (Photo by Jim Robertson)
In the 1960s, two northern Kentucky communities were growing rapidly.
Rapidly, in the case of Crestview Hills, means that U.S. Census records show a 7,326 percent growth from the 1960 to 1970 decennial censuses.
Neighboring Lakeside Park grew from 988 residents to 2,214 during the census periods of 1950 to 1960 – a 124 percent growth for the small Kentucky town.
Neither city employed its own law enforcement at the time – Kenton County Police Department served the communities.
“Both cities were growing and saw the need for their own police departments, but they didn’t think they could afford it,” said Christopher Schutte, chief of today’s Lakeside Park-Crestview Hills Police Department (LPCH). “They had this idea to form an inter-local agreement and create a police authority, which benefitted them because each city still had a say, but was only paying part of the cost.”
On Sept. 16, 1968 – following approval of their agreement by the Kentucky attorney general – LPCH began operations. In September, the department will celebrate its 50th anniversary.
“You often hear people talking about the need to consolidate government services,” Schutte said. “This is one form of consolidation that has worked well for 50 years. It has been a good marriage.”
The police authority exists today very much as it did 50 years ago when it was designed. The funding formula for how much each community contributes financially to the department is based on calls for service, properties and the tax base. The department is governed by a board consisting of council members from each city. The board’s majority vote and chairperson representative rotates annually between the two cities.
The 13-person department includes 12 sworn officers and one civilian police clerk who serve the two communities equally. Today, that service represents more than 5,800 residents and a balanced mix of residential and commercial properties, Schutte said.
Aside from its governance, LPCH operates like any other Kentucky law enforcement agency. Its organizational structure includes the chief, two captains, two sergeants and seven patrol officers to enforce the community’s laws. The department’s officers are active in numerous roles, which has created a sense of buy-in and reduced some retention issues with which small departments typically struggle, Schutte said.
“I will still go take calls,” Schutte said. “That’s one of the benefits of being the chief of a small police department. When I went to the academy, I was never saying, ‘I want to go be a police chief and sit behind a desk all day.’ The idea was to be out there taking calls and doing the job. That’s probably one of the best things about my job.”
Schutte was hired in 1996 at LPCH and graduated from Department of Criminal Justice Training’s Basic Training Class No. 246. He was promoted to sergeant in 2004, captain in 2007 and became the department’s seventh chief in 2012. Schutte is a graduate of the FBI National Academy – in fact, the entire LPCH supervisory staff has graduated from the program.
“To be an effective leader, you have to let people know you’re not asking them to do anything you are not willing to do yourself,” Schutte said. “I don’t get out there as much as I would like to anymore, but I like to lead by example.”
‘Get out of their way’
For a 13-member department, LPCH offers its community a full-range of services that would more likely be expected from a larger agency. LPCH offers a Citizens’ Police Academy, active-threat classes, car-seat installation and Rape Aggression Defense (RAD) training to its residents, for example.
This range of services is not by accident, and the responsibilities for these – as well as internal training services – are distributed among staff who take ownership in their specific roles, Schutte said. The chief’s goal is to lead a diverse team who have the support and opportunity to apply their individual skill sets.
“One thing you have to do as a leader that the national academy helped me see is that you don’t have to micromanage,” Schutte said. “But don’t be sitting on the sidelines. If you see a problem, get in there and correct it. Other than that, simply make sure there is an environment where your officers can be successful and get out of their way.
“Let them do their thing,” he continued. “Put people in positions where they are going to succeed. I’m always pushing them out of their comfort zone, and that’s when you really see them grow.”
In 2017, the department added its 12th sworn officer, Patrol Officer Autumn Ruehl, who joined the agency after 13 years of service with the Kenton County Sheriff’s Office.
In the LPCH annual report, Schutte noted both a 30.96 percent increase in the department’s total incidents and an 8.55 percent decrease in crime reported.
“The significant increase in total incidents is attributable to the addition of a 12th officer, since more officers can equate to more proactive police activity,” Schutte wrote. “However, this can have an inverse corollary effect on the crime rate as proactive activity can affect reactive activity.”
Being proactive in her community is something Ruehl is passionate about. Ruehl is one of the department’s RAD instructors, is trained in car-seat installation and created the CALMER program.
“I think in any police agency, the majority of the population in the community are not the people we deal with on a day-to-day basis,” Ruehl said. “Minus maybe a small traffic accident, the average citizen doesn’t have interaction with us. I’m a taxpayer – what am I paying for? What can we do, as an agency, to benefit the tax-paying community members who aren’t calling 911?”
Correct car-seat installation is one of those services, Ruehl said. As an officer, many of Ruehl’s friends and acquaintances assumed she knew how to correctly install their children’s car seats.
“So I figured, if I’m going to keep getting asked about it, I better go to training,” she said. “I took a 40-hour class on it, and it’s harder than you think.”
After attending the training, Ruehl said she and LPCH Capt. Brad Degenhardt offered an installation and, of the 20 participants, every single seat had previously been installed incorrectly.
“These were women I know – smart women – and if theirs are in wrong, how many others are, too?” Ruehl said. “I think it’s a huge benefit.”
The CALMER program – which is an acronym for Community And Law Enforcement Mutually Extending Respect – was born out of a similar desire to be proactive. It is a program Ruehl started as a sheriff’s deputy and brought with her to LPCH.
“For me, sitting back and watching the Ferguson, Mo., riots on TV and seeing law enforcement get blasted in the news, it really bothered me,” she said. “I think we need to be asking ourselves what we can do to [change the dialogue]. What can I do in my little position in the middle of northern Kentucky to move that needle, even just a little bit? So I came up with this program, pitched it to the sheriff’s office and here and they both said, ‘Run with it.’”
Initially, Ruehl said she visited incarcerated criminals who are in drug-treatment programs and approached them first as a person, and second as an officer.
“I asked them, ‘What can we do to fix these problems? I know there are some officers out there who aren’t nice – I get that. But you need to see us as people just as much as I need to see you as a person, not just a felon.’”
From there, Ruehl said the lines of communication were opened, and she was able to discuss topics like what she expects out of a person when she stops them so the situation ends peacefully. She described officer discretion and talked about how to communicate and fix problems before it becomes a use-of-force issue.
Based on that success, Ruehl re-drafted a version of the CALMER program that would be appropriate for at-risk high school students. Like with the felons, Ruehl explains expectations from law enforcement during interactions with the juveniles, what the legal rights of a juvenile are when they are pulled over in a traffic stop and explains her role as an officer if the students are caught shoplifting, running away or found with drugs.
The purpose is to prepare these students for being adults in the community, Ruehl said.
“What do you do when you see blue lights?” she said. “They don’t teach that in high school. It would have been great to hear when I was a teenager.”
‘That can’t be right’
LPCH Capt. Russell Leberecht also took proactive measures to fix a traffic issue in the agency’s coverage area of I-275. Specifically, Leberecht looked at one exit ramp where, during the course of eight years, more than 680 collisions had been recorded.
“There were officers who literally had the narrative set aside in a Word document to copy and paste into their reports,” Leberecht said. “They didn’t have to write a new narrative because it was the same thing every time.”
The wrecks occurred frequently because of the design of the ramp, which forced drivers waiting to merge to crane their necks backward to look for oncoming traffic. Vehicles behind them would stack up, and led to many rear-end collisions. That type of accident occurred on the ramp roughly every five days. While most were minor, during that same eight-year period, at least 70 injuries were reported. Leberecht had tried to draw attention to the issue for several years, but said it wasn’t until KYOPS allowed him to pull collision data from that location that people started listening.
“With the new KYOPS system, you can draw a box around a location and see how many specific incidents occurred there,” he said. “There were 680 pin drops in this 15-foot area, which was so compelling, just the picture itself. I went to the state highway department in Fort Mitchell and they said, ‘That can’t be right.’ They started checking the data and realized it was right.’
The swooping turn was torn out and made into a 90-degree turn, Leberecht said. Now drivers are able to look directly at oncoming traffic instead of over their shoulder.
“That was it,” he said. “That was all that was needed.”
Leberecht recently reviewed a two-month period since the ramp was changed and said that during that time period, when he previously would have anticipated 40 collisions, only one incident occurred.
‘Why didn’t I know?’
About five years ago, Degenhardt found himself in unfamiliar territory following the fatal shooting of a suspect during a SWAT response. Despite feeling confident in his decision to take the suspect’s life during the critical incident, the shooting was a first for the then-13-year veteran. The physical and physiological responses he experienced following the incident also were unfamiliar, he said.
“In the days following, I had a lot of replay of the incident in my mind,” Degenhardt said. “I never had anybody tell me that was normal. I thought, ‘Why am I so fixated on this?’ I had no doubts about my incident – I waited until the very last moment to act. Yet, I was constantly replaying it in my head and that seemed counter-intuitive.”
During his required administrative leave following the shooting, Degenhardt took it upon himself to read Deadly Force Encounters by Loren Christensen and other books by Dave Grossman to better understand what he was experiencing.
“If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought they were standing over my shoulder listening to me,” he said. “They spoke to me significantly. But in those books, they state, ‘Here’s what happens during the incident, here is what may happen following and all this is normal. That, to me, was a huge sigh of relief to know what I was experiencing was normal. But it also brought me to the point of questioning, ‘Why didn’t I know this ahead of time? Why aren’t others being told this ahead of a critical incident?’”
When he returned to work, Degenhardt told Chief Schutte he wanted to help other officers immediately following shootings. He discovered the Kentucky Law Enforcement Assistance Program (KYLEAP), which was just getting off the ground through the Kentucky Community Crisis Response Board. After attending the KYLEAP training, Degenhardt learned about the Kentucky Post-Critical Incident Seminar (KYPCIS).
Degenhardt attended KYPCIS No. 1 with his wife as students. They returned to KYPCIS No. 2 as peers.
“It was definitely very fulfilling to me once I became a peer in KYPCIS,” he said. “It was very close to what I had in my mind of what I wanted to do immediately following my shooting. I am 100 percent vested in that program. Physically, psychologically and professionally.”
Like most marriages where an officer is married to a civilian, Degenhardt said he shared a censored version of what he experienced at work with his wife prior to PCIS. Attending KYPCIS No. 1 together allowed her to get a better grasp of what officers deal with daily, he said. The experience has brought the two closer because Degenhardt said he no longer worries about what he confides in her.
“It has definitely been a point of strength in our relationship in that we have found a common passion, helping others within the law enforcement field. I thought it was great when she went with me to PCIS as an attendee, but then to come back herself to act as a peer to other spouses – who have been coming in larger and larger numbers each session – has been a very good growing experience.
“I am very much a cops’ cop,” Degenhardt continued. I think we definitely have to be there for each other and pass along our strengths and work on our weaknesses. If we don’t share our common experiences or our wisdom gained over our career, we have lost a wonderful opportunity.”