From Car-Hop to Top Cop
On June 1, Henderson Police Officer Jennifer Richmond celebrated her 20th year with the western Kentucky agency. In doing so, she became the longest serving female police officer in HPD’s history.
Hers is a career that began sort of by accident, Richmond said.
“I wasn’t necessarily looking to become a police officer, but they were doing interviews at Murray State and I was trying to get better at (job) interviews,” Henderson, who graduated from MSU with a degree in criminal justice, said. “I didn’t know anything about interviewing because I had been a car-hop for four years at Sonic.”
Those interviews led to a test, and follow up interviews, one of which came just days after Richmond had undergone foot surgery.
“I thought there wasn’t any way they’re going to hire me because I’m hopping around the building,” she joked. “I couldn’t even get down the narrow hall on crutches.”
Soon, Richmond graduated from the then 10-week Department of Criminal Justice Training Basic Training Academy, and shortly thereafter, was patrolling the streets of Henderson.
Public Information Officer
Over the course of 20 years, Richmond has performed a variety of duties within HPD. Six years ago, Richmond became the agency’s public information officer. It has been a great fit for the officer’s outgoing, effervescent personality.
The PIO duties allow Richmond to capitalize on her love for community-oriented policing.
“I’m really comfortable getting to know people,” she said.
Since serving in the PIO role, Richmond assisted in organizing a youth citizen’s academy in the local high school.
“Through the career and technical education portion of the school, when they graduate, if they take each of the tests through the community college, they will have 12 credit hours in criminal justice,” Richmond said. “The school district is wonderful, and they allow me to teach during school hours. Anything I teach over is testable material. That’s good for me because I have been a KLE instructor for five years.”
Being a PIO is about relationship-building with the community members as well as media outlets,” Richmond said.
In regard to the media, Richmond said she anticipates their needs.
“I run through all the reports each day, and I write up our news releases,” she said. “I come in early and do those things because I know the news media have their meetings at 8 in the morning, and they get their assignments then. So I try to get as much as I can to them during that time.”
Her duties as a PIO evolve daily, and a higher priority has been placed on social media.
“It has made a huge difference,” she said. “We get more positive feedback that we do negative feedback.”
The key is controlling the message.
“I don’t put every single thing we do,” she said. “In talking to other (PIOs), if you put everything on social media, people then start flipping past you and they don’t pay attention.”
Henderson uses social media to keep the news media in the loop, let residents know about issues such as road closures and, at times, offer a form of entertainment.
“Right now, we have a funny (post) going around,” Richmond said. “It’s the lip sync challenge featuring Maj. Jermaine Poynter and Officer Ellie Hargrove.”
The post occurred when she was on vacation, and her husband noticed it on Facebook.
“We have 349,000 views (as of mid-July),” she said. “We try to keep a good mix on our Facebook page to keep people engaged.”
Having a social media presence also means an agency has to keep track of it for potential open records requests.
“We have an archiving system through the city for all of our social media,” Richmond said. “I can pull it up if we get an open records request.”
Working with the public comes naturally for Richmond. To that end, for 19 of her 20 years, she has played a key role in the agency’s recruitment ventures by visiting universities and job fairs.
Part of that effort is making law enforcement attractive to both males and females. At Henderson, there are 61 officers, six of whom are females.
“We realize you have to start younger to bring (females) into law enforcement,” Richmond said. “At our high schools, we do a day of Women in Criminal Justice. We have our female judges, prosecutors, probation and parole officers and our jailer, who is a female.”
The session lasts three hours and the questions that come from students are thought-provoking.
“Students don’t realize that you can have a family and still be a police officer,” Richmond said. “You look at society; the mom’s role is so different from the dad’s. I’m not dismissing the daddies out there. My husband (Jody) is so involved with our children. But it’s a little different when mom is the one putting on the gun and vest every day and walking out the door.”
Richmond’s husband manages a safety warehouse, and is not affiliated with law enforcement, she said.
“One crazy person in the family is enough,” she quipped.
The message Richmond emphasizes to those who are considering a law enforcement career is to make sure everyone is on the same page.
“If you decide to go into this field, and you’re married or have a significant other, you have to make sure everyone is onboard or else it won’t work,” she said. “My husband and I have an agreement that if it ever gets to the point where he thinks it is time for me to step away, he has to tell me. Family is the most important thing to me.”
After logging 20 years of service, Richmond said her faith will dictate how much longer she will serve Henderson in the capacity of a police officer.
“I will continue until the Lord opens the right door for me to move on,” she said.
Over 20 years, Richmond has dealt with several high-stress and gut-wrenching cases.
“For a small town, we’ve had a lot of crazy things happen here,” Richmond said. “We had a mass shooting (June 2008) at a factory. I was off investigations at that time, and they kept the factory closed for a few days, When they opened it back up, they had me there for several days just hanging out in the parking lot.
“Former Chief Ed Brady told me, ‘I just need you to be there for them. You’re basically going to be a counselor – just talk to them.”
Then there was the October 2006 Bonnie Frederick case, the social worker who was murdered during a home visit.
“I was one of the detectives who worked that and that will always stick in my mind,” she said. “I transported the female murderer back from Illinois after she was found.”
Richmond credits her strong faith and support system – her husband and church friends – for being able to handle the job stress.
“My husband is my rock,” Richmond said. “I have built and maintained relationships outside of the department that have kept me grounded. I don’t keep myself immersed in law enforcement.”
She also has a secret weapon that helps keep her sane.
“I eat chocolate,” she quipped. “I don’t drink or smoke, so I eat chocolate.”
Aside from her support system, Richmond takes advantage of Henderson’s John James Audubon State Park.
“I like to disappear in the backcountry trail at the park,” she said. “There is two and a half or three miles of walking trails. It helps to get the anxiety out.”
There are many aspects of policing in Henderson that make the job enjoyable, Richmond said. HPD is top-notch and the community is close-knit, and her commitment to community-oriented policing is a perfect match for the 20-year veteran.