Alexandria Police Chief Lucas Cooper decided early in his career what path he wanted to go down, and began taking leadership classes. His dedication, coupled with those classes and experience helped put him in position to become chief. (Photo by Jim Robertson)
On Feb. 1, 2019, 34-year-old Lucas Cooper went to work.
It is something he has done thousands of times before as a member of the Alexandria Police Department, but this day was different. On this day, Cooper was chief of police, having replaced longtime Chief Mike Ward, who retired on Jan. 31, 2019.
Sitting down at his desk that morning, Cooper discovered a hand-written letter from Ward offering well wishes and final advice.
“One of the lines read, ‘Start training your replacement now,’” Cooper said.
For those who know Ward, that statement is not surprising, as he was all about training, planning and thinking ahead, Cooper said.
“I latched on to that from the beginning, realizing that we were more progressive than some other places,” Cooper said. “It influenced my way of thinking about this job in general, and that’s not to say at times he came up with ideas that I thought were totally harebrained. After a while, I saw where he was going with (the idea), and it made sense.”
Soon after taking over as chief, Cooper had a conversation with Campbell County Chief Deputy Ken Fecher, who reminded him of a lunch with Ward shortly before he went to the Department of Criminal Justice Training’s basic training academy in 2006.
“(Fecher) came up to me and said, ‘Do you remember before you ever went to the academy, we went to a restaurant and had lunch?’” Cooper recalled. “I said, ‘Yes, I remember that.’ He said, ‘You know, Mike called me the next day and said, ‘I’m going to make him the next chief.’”
Ward said he knew almost immediately that Cooper had potential, as he was impressed during the initial hiring process.
“We went to lunch with Fecher (who, at that time, was employed by the Fort Thomas Police Department), and I just saw something in Cooper,” Ward said. “It was something that I don’t often see early on in a recruit. It was a commitment.”
Like many people seeking a job, Cooper was excited when he got the job, Ward continued. However, in the back of the longtime chief’s mind, Ward knew Cooper could be special.
“Policing is what some people do,” Ward added. “Policing is a lifestyle, and it requires a commitment to your community, fellow officers and, of course, your family. I saw all of those traits in Lucas Cooper.”
Training and Education
It is one thing to show the potential, but it is quite another to cultivate it. Throughout his career, Cooper took full advantage of Ward’s counseling and training opportunities provided by APD.
“From day one, (Ward) was always willing to send people to training and educate them,” Cooper said. “On top of that, he was always invested in the people who worked here. He took an interest in their lives, who they were and who their families were. That rubbed off on me in terms of taking care of people and making sure officers are well-trained.”
Ward said taking care of people is one of the primary responsibilities as chief, and it is something he learned from his military days.
“When I made (non-commissioned officer) in the Air Force, a senior master sergeant in the security police said this to me: ‘If you forget everything I ever say, don’t forget this. Take care of your people first. That means you praise them, discipline them, and feed and house them, when necessary. If you do, then your people will take care of you. A good leader finds someone within his command and works toward developing him or her to take his place. We’re all replaceable (but) what is important is that we choose our replacements ourselves.’”
Like other young officers, Cooper’s career started out working second and third shifts for an extended period. Along the way, he began taking patrol leadership classes, finishing his bachelor’s degree at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights and his master’s degree via the University of the Cumberlands’ online program.
Soon, he joined the department’s bike patrol and SWAT team, and he kept on taking courses that would prepare him for the next stage of his career.
“As I progressed in my career, I decided what path I wanted to go down, and that is when I started taking many of those leadership classes and got involved as a police-training officer and got to train some officers that way,” Cooper said. “All of the leadership here has been through DOCJT’s Academy of Police Supervision and Criminal Justice Executive Development courses, and I have my application into the FBI National Academy.”
In 2014, Cooper was promoted to sergeant, and he continued to learn and absorb as much experience and knowledge as possible.
“When I first started, there were so many senior officers who had a lot of experience, and I drew from them,” Cooper added.
His goal was to one day sit in the chair Ward occupied for many years.
“All the while, I knew Mike was going to (retire) one day,” Cooper explained. “I didn’t expect it to happen so soon, but when he did leave, I wanted to be a viable candidate for the position.”
Having benefited from a police chief who was forward thinking in developing talent within the department, Cooper said he and his staff owe it to the officers and community to continue the tradition.
“I’ve had discussions with the other leaders and supervisors here,” he said. “It is our job to start training people to replace the things we do now.”
To do that, Cooper said it goes back to one of the principles Ward passed on – getting to know your people.
“It’s important to develop your investment,” Cooper continued. “Investing in your people and caring about people, showing them that you want to help them build a career and not just come to a job every day, is vital.”
To that end, Cooper said it is essential to know what his officers want to do, career-wise, and help them get started in the career path.
“If you want to go into investigations, then we will start getting you into investigation schools,” he said. “Is supervision something you think you’ll like? If so, we will start allowing you to get a feel for that kind of thing.”
Everyone has some leadership qualities in certain areas and fields, Cooper said, and it is up to the current crop of leaders to identify the potential, much like Ward did in 2006.
“You have to let them do (the things to help them develop) as leaders,” Cooper said. “It’s important to recognize the qualities in your people and develop those things, so you’ll have good leaders on all levels, not just chief.”