Eastern Kentucky University Police Department’s sworn strength is 24, which includes the chief, two lieutenants, eight sergeants, two detectives and 11 patrol officers. Located in Richmond, Ky., the university works closely with the other law enforcement in the community and EKU staff to ensure a safe and secure campus for approximately 17,000 students. (Photo by Jim Robertson)
The Eastern Kentucky University Police Department is accustomed to hosting a wide array of dignitaries and large-scale events on campus. From a sold-out Harry Connick Jr. concert at EKU’s Center for the Arts to the weeklong All “A” Classic high school basketball tournament that attracts upwards of 30,000 attendees, the department has developed a clockwork-like approach to crowd management.
However, in October 2018, EKUPD was notified that President Donald Trump would rally on campus at the height of the hotly-contested 6th Congressional District race between Andy Barr and Amy McGrath. They had seven days’ notice.
“With Michelle Obama (who gave the commencement speech for a 2013 graduation ceremony), we had six months to plan,” said EKUPD Chief Brian Mullins. “With Donald Trump, we were told at 5 in the evening that he was going to be here next week.”
Spectators began arriving on campus at 5 a.m. that Saturday at EKU’s Alumni Coliseum, where Trump would speak at 7 p.m. that evening. Free tickets were offered online to obtain one of the 6,500 seats inside, but tickets did not guarantee admission. A JumboTron screen projected the rally into the parking lot to a crowd, later estimated at another 5,000 people.
“We had a meeting with all the law enforcement agencies in Lexington at the Bluegrass Airport that were going to be involved in any part of either the motorcade route or the main site,” EKUPD Lt. Brandon Collins said. “We spent the majority of our week with the Secret Service who were going to be in charge of the presidential visit. It was long hours every day that week leading up to it, just to get logistics in place.”
Kentucky State Police, Lexington Police Department, Madison County Sheriff’s Office, Richmond Police Department and the University of Kentucky Police Department all provided assistance to ensure safety and order for the event, including policing the crowd of more than 300 protestors.
“Working together and having a unified communication structure in place for that day was essential,” Collins said. “Madison County 911 came, and we had our dispatchers along with theirs dispatching from a command post in the bottom of Alumni Coliseum. If there’s one thing I would say about something like that, it is that you’re going to have to communicate before the event. The day of the event, make sure your communications are in order.
“There were a few times we had to scramble on the fly,” Collins continued. “One of them, in particular, was when the Secret Service decided to close the doors 10 minutes before the president arrived. That literally made thousands of people get angry and decide to leave. At the same time, we were responsible for keeping the motorcade routes open. We had about five minutes to keep several thousands of people from driving into a presidential motorcade. Without good communications, we wouldn’t have been able to do that.”
Mullins and Collins noted the event success was primarily due to relationship development with surrounding law enforcement agencies, other university members and the Madison County community as a whole, long before the president stepped foot on campus.
“Without those relationships, I don’t know how this would have been pulled off,” Collins said. “No one agency could have done this themselves. Not for a sitting president.”
Relationships and resource development are a cornerstone of EKUPD’s daily operations. The department’s sworn strength is 24, which includes the chief, two lieutenants, eight sergeants, two detectives and 11 patrol officers. These officers, and their dispatch team of six, are responsible for a campus community of about 17,000 students and another few hundred faculty and staff.
EKUPD officers have countywide jurisdiction in a community of nearly 83,000 citizens. A school resource officer, Chet Wright, is assigned full-time to Model Laboratory School, a private K-12 school operated by the university, which serves nearly 800 students.
With a community this size, maintaining a relationship-driven perspective is how the department thrives in what could be a challenge for the mid-size agency.
EKUPD Associate Director of Police Support Services Erika Richardson said many of the agencies that assisted during the Trump rally regularly take part in EKUPD’s community-disaster exercises. The agency hosts at least one exercise per year, she said, varying in size and scope. These opportunities allow multiple first responder agencies to identify and rectify any issues that might arise during a multi-agency-response scenario.
The same level of communication and relationship development that exists between the police department and other law enforcement agencies also thrives through cooperation with the multitude of EKU departments that work alongside one another to support students, faculty and staff on campus. EKUPD Detective Marti Burton, who specializes in sex-crime investigations, said the support system created for victims, because of this network, is the best.
“This is one of the specialties of university policing,” Burton said. “This is the most resourceful environment when it comes to urgent needs and personal crimes. You’re not going to get the kind of support that you get here on a university campus, elsewhere.”
“We can connect survivors immediately,” Collins added, “from meeting with a police officer to then talking to a detective who specializes in sex crimes, to meeting with a counselor, housing, or Title IX, to an administrative investigation – there are just so many layers of support.”
Richardson noted that the age range of traditional college students is, statistically, at a higher risk of sexual assault than other age groups. With that in mind, a campus community effort has been developed to establish a good rapport with students, so they feel more comfortable reporting personal crimes.
“There is a system in place, and that system is working,” Burton said. “[Victims] don’t have to report to us. They have different avenues. [Victims] can do an administrative investigation, and that’s it. But we have a system in place where the reports are willingly coming to us.”
As university law enforcement, EKUPD is required to report crime information via the Clery Center, a federal mandate which began in 1990 to ensure crime transparency on college campuses. Burton noted that EKU’s Clery report often shows a higher number of reported sex crimes than other universities. However, she argues that it is not because EKU’s rate of crime is any higher. It’s because of the communication established with victims has led to more reports.
“When you see that we have an increase in reporting, but you look at our Ampersand sexual violence region, and compare the reports we are getting here versus no reports or no clients out of different counties, you know it’s not because sexual crimes there don’t exist.”
The department also provides educational opportunities to the greater campus community, thus creating a preventative layer of support. For example, Burton recently spoke to an EKU fraternity about consent and sex crimes, Chief Mullins said. EKUPD Sgt. Brad Early and Dispatcher Lauren Early regularly offer Rape Aggression Defense training. The women’s self-defense class is typically offered twice a semester, Richardson said – more often as needed. The 12-hour, free course, is provided to all female students, faculty, staff and alumni.
“It is a tool to give our female population more confidence in their self-defense,” she said.
These relationships don’t end at sex crimes, though.
“If there is one trend we have seen in the past few years it is an increase in welfare checks for mental health,” Mullins said.
The police department plays an active role in the university’s student assistance and intervention team. The multidisciplinary group, which also includes counselors and faculty, communicates weekly about students who might be at risk of harm to themselves or others. This student population is another pocket of the community which has received more attention thanks, in part, to anonymous text reporting via EKU’s LiveSafe app.
“Several times, people who might not normally call the police department will text and say, ‘A friend of mine is having suicidal thoughts, for example,’” Collins said. “We then dispatch an officer to go check on that person.”
“People don’t get forgotten about,” Mullins added. “We are getting help to people who need it. And it could be anything, from someone who had a sexual assault and is suffering to a student who is displaying indicators of disturbing behavior.”
The team’s purpose is to intervene before violence happens, and Collins said they believe the system has been effective.
“Everybody knows when someone becomes an active shooter,” Richardson said. “Nobody knows when they don’t. Nobody knows how many acts of violence are prevented.”
The effectiveness of these initiatives and relationships have taken time to develop, and begin by selecting officers in the agency’s hiring process who excel in communication and adaptability.
“We want people who are going to be able to speak their language,” Collins said of the community EKUPD serves. “We have so many different nationalities, ethnicities and cultures here that you wouldn’t experience in some other areas. Our officers have to be so well rounded. They might go from talking to a person who is deaf or hard of hearing to dealing with someone from a foreign country or a citizen of Richmond. Our days are so varied and diverse. You have to be able to listen and communicate with all types of people.”
EKUPD has worked to mirror the diversity of the community it serves through the officers it employs, Mullins said. As chief, he said the thing he strives for most is that his officers enjoy coming to work each day.
“I come into roll call, and people are cutting up, having a good time, enjoying being here and doing what they do,” Mullins said. “Being on a college campus, the media often scrutinize everything they do with a fine-tooth comb. They are held to a higher standard than some places. But the university community has invested in this department and is probably more supportive now than they have ever been. I think that has a lot to do with the people we have here.”
Working for a university police department has perks not often available at municipal, county or state agencies, Burton said, such as free college tuition. In December last year, Burton gave the commencement speech at her own EKU graduation, noting how she was able to finish her bachelor’s degree as a single mom while working full-time at EKUPD.
“We respond to the same calls as what’s going on in Bowling Green, Pikeville or northern Kentucky,” Burton said. “We are a full-service police department, and that attitude is here. But you look at the benefits we have on top of and in addition to what other places offer. This is one of the best opportunities to be a well-rounded officer, as a human, a mother, father, husband or wife – people would be jealous.”