Lexington police chief’s 1962 essay about race relations teaches lessons some have yet to learn

August 9, 2015
President Dwight D. Eisenhower shook hands with Lexington police Chief E.C. Hale on Oct. 1, 1956, while in Lexington as part of his re-election campaign. Hale, police chief from 1953 to 1972, was credited with helping to keep racial tensions in the city from turning violent. Herald-Leader Photo

President Dwight D. Eisenhower shook hands with Lexington police Chief E.C. Hale on Oct. 1, 1956, while in Lexington as part of his re-election campaign. Hale, police chief from 1953 to 1972, was credited with helping to keep racial tensions in the city from turning violent. Herald-Leader Photo

 

J.D. Hale of Lexington called me the other day. Like most of us, he was disturbed by recent incidents of white police officers shooting unarmed black people.

The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., a year ago Sunday focused national attention on the uneasy relationship between many black communities and the police. There have been more shootings since Ferguson, including that of Samuel DuBose in Cincinnati last month.

These tragedies prompted Hale to recall a widely published essay that his father, E.C. Hale, wrote in 1962. One magazine headlined it: “A Southern police chief explains why racism hurts law enforcement.”

E.C. Hale served as Lexington’s police chief from 1953 to 1972 after 21 years in the ranks. His 1974 obituary credited him with making the force more professional. Under Hale’s no-nonsense leadership, Lexington became a national model for police training, procedures, record-keeping and community relations.

As the 1960s began, segregated Lexington had some of the South’s first civil rights demonstrations. They did not become well-known, in part because this newspaper’s management policy was to ignore them.

But perhaps the biggest reason Lexington’s marches and lunch counter sit-ins did not attract national attention was that they did not turn violent. A big reason for that was Hale’s leadership of the police and his good working relationship with local civil rights leaders.

Hale said his goal was to enforce the law while treating everyone with firmness, fairness and respect. For example, he said an in interview in the late 1960s, there was a vigil outside the Fayette County Courthouse in 1963 to protest the racist church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four girls. As participants knelt in prayer, a white man ran out of a crowd of bystanders and slapped one of them. Within seconds, he was arrested and hauled off to jail.

“It could have been a model for other communities in the South,” said Yvonne Giles, an authority on Lexington’s black history. “But it didn’t happen that way.”

After talking with Hale’s son, I went online to look for the essay. I found it in the May 1962 edition of Negro Digest, a popular magazine similar to Readers Digest that was renamed Black World before it ceased publication in 1976.

“The Negro has had good reason to look with suspicion and fear upon the uniformed officer,” Hale wrote. “The effect of wrongful treatment will cause Negroes to carry over the memories of their past experience to the detriment of the whole community.”

Here are a few other excerpts:

“Firmness does not mean belligerence. The former is characteristic of good policing, and the latter is characteristic of bad policing.”

“Equal justice is not merely a term. The police officer who is tempted to vary his role according to personal notions as to the worth of various groups is himself in violation of the law. An officer has a capacity for delivering equal justice only to the extent that he has this problem under control.”

“The entire police force suffers as a result of the brutal measures of an individual officer. The true victims of police brutality are the police themselves, since it develops widespread hostility and disrespect for law among the members of the minority group.”

“A good standard of fairness would be treatment of the individuals in the same manner as the police officer would desire to be treated if he were the individual and the other party the police officer.”

“A good reputation for fairness in dealing with the public is an invaluable asset to a police department because it instills public confidence, making police work more pleasant and effective.”

Of course, neither Hale nor the city he served was perfect.

Hale ruled Lexington’s police force with an iron hand. In the late 1960s, he called efforts to create a citizens review board for his department a “communist plot.” When Vietnam War protesters complained about police tactics, he said, “I’m not going to be pushed around by these long-haired, fuzzy-face people.”

Lexington had no shortage of racial tension, and it finally exploded in October 1994, when a police sergeant accidently shot Tony Sullivan, an unarmed homicide suspect.

Lexington got its first black police chief in 2001 with the promotion of Anthany Beatty, a widely respected leader who since retirement has run for mayor and headed security at the University of Kentucky. His successors, Ronnie Bastin and Mark Barnard, have made community relations a priority, and it has paid off.

Hale’s 1962 essay, which was controversial among many whites at the time, strikes most of us now as common sense. But it is a common sense still lacking among some police officers and some police forces.

“I hadn’t read the thing in years,” J.D. Hale said. “But when I did, it struck me that a lot of these problems we’re having now could have been avoided if more people had listened to what he said back then.”

Read Hale’s full essay by clicking here.

 


Concerns about militarized police ignore bigger, underlying issues

September 27, 2014

Should Andy Taylor and Barney Fife be equipped like Rambo?

That has been a much-debated topic since police in Ferguson, Mo., responded with paramilitary aggressiveness to protesters after one of their white officers shot and killed a black teenager.

The situation focused public attention on the U.S. Defense Department’s 1033 program, which has given away hundreds of millions of dollars worth of “surplus” military equipment to state and local police forces, whether they need it or not.

Kentucky’s House Local Government Committee held a hearing last week on this issue. The 1033 program has furnished 33,000 military weapons and supplies, valued at more than $44 million, to Kentucky police agencies over the past decade.

That includes the Lexington Police Department’s two helicopters, hundreds of automatic rifles for the Kentucky State Police and a $689,000 mine-resistant vehicle for the Owensboro Police Department. And you know who is paying to buy, operate and take care of all these goodies. You are.

This trend raises many issues, but I haven’t seen some of the biggest ones discussed.

Access to this kind of firepower only increases the chances for abuse of power and tragedy among badly managed police forces. But problems such as those in Ferguson have more to do with what is in officers’ hearts than what is in their hands. Bull Connor’s Birmingham cops needed only fire hoses to show their moral bankruptcy in the 1960s.

Besides, I understand why police officers want and sometimes need military-style weapons. Thanks to the NRA and other gun-rights radicals, any Tom, Dick or lunatic now has easy access to military-style weapons, and many think they have a constitutional right to flaunt them in public.

It is no wonder the FBI reported last week that the number of mass shootings has increased dramatically in recent years. Authorities studied 160 shootings that killed or wounded 1,000 people, many of which occurred in schools or businesses. In one-fourth of those cases, the shooter committed suicide before police arrived.

Do we really have more crazy people than in the past? Or is it simply that society’s gun lust has made it easier for them to inflict maximum carnage? Until the United States is mature enough to enact common-sense gun control measures, police will sometimes need serious firepower to keep themselves and the public safe.

But the issues go much deeper. When I read about the Defense Department doling out all of this “surplus” equipment, I wonder why they have it all to give away.

As Dwight Eisenhower was leaving the presidency in 1961, he gave a famous farewell speech that warned about the corrupting influence he saw in the rise of America’s “military industrial complex.”

Eisenhower, a Republican and the greatest general of World War II, was no wild-eyed pacifist. But he clearly saw what was happening.

“The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,” Eisenhower warned. “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Eisenhower’s fears have been realized, and the 1033 program is just a small example.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies in 2012 estimated U.S. military spending at $645 billion, more than half the government’s discretionary spending. It was 40 percent of the world’s total military spending — more than six times China’s $102 billion and 10 times Russia’s $59 billion.

Stories of wasteful, unnecessary and even fraudulent military spending are legion. In an unholy alliance with corporate “defense” contractors, Congress continues to appropriate billions for high-tech planes, ships, weapons systems and equipment the military doesn’t need and may never use.

In another speech, in 1952, Eisenhower said, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

So the next time your congressman tells you we can’t afford better health care, better schools and better infrastructure, you will know why. That $689,000 mine-resistant vehicle in Owensboro is only the tip of the iceberg.


Will Mayor Gray keep making the tough calls?

March 5, 2011

In his first two months in office, Mayor Jim Gray hasn’t been shy about wading into swamps to wrestle alligators. The question is: Will he keep it up?

Gray moved quickly to launch management reviews of Lexington’s troubled jail and emergency call center. He was involved behind the scenes in last week’s ouster of the two top officials of the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, where poor management seemed to be at the root of longstanding problems.

Last Monday, Gray asked for the resignation of Fire Chief Robert Hendricks, saying he had not demonstrated the level of leadership the department needed. The flash point was Hendrick’s failure to manage overtime, resulting in an $80,000 budget overage that was on track to grow to $500,000 by the end of the year.

If the chief refuses to resign, the Urban County Council will ultimately decide whether to fire him. Council members voted unanimously Thursday to support Gray in gathering information that could lead to the chief’s dismissal.

Gray said in an interview Friday that, after nearly four decades as a business executive, he is comfortable with this part of his job. “This is what you do as a manager,” he said. “You’re a problem-solver.”

Gray, who is on leave as chief executive of his family’s firm, Gray Construction Co., said experience has taught him that nothing can do more to diminish an organization’s efficiency or morale than poor leadership.

“It’s always blamed on the employees,” he said. “Employees are in search of leadership. When it’s not present, the issues really elevate themselves.”

Will more heads roll? That depends, Gray said. He created the Mayor’s Office of Performance Management, headed by Sheila Hupp, who held a similar job in Irving, Texas. Her task is to work with city division directors to set standards and measurements of success.

“This is not an event, it’s a process,” Gray said. “But we do have a moment in time because of the financial crisis to adapt, adjust and learn better ways of operating.”

While Gray said he is determined to run government more like a business, it is still government, which means politics. Gray was elected with backing from Lexington’s police and firefighter unions, and his transition team reports reflected their dissatisfaction with both the fire and police chiefs.

So is Police Chief Ronnie Bastin’s job also on the line? Gray said no, because he doesn’t see evidence of poor management in the police department.

What’s more, Gray said, the police and firefighters unions’ support of his campaign will not keep him from driving a hard bargain in contract negotiations, which begin soon. For the first time, he said, the city will hire a professional negotiator to assist management.

“My responsibility is to represent the people, the taxpayers, in these negotiations, and that’s what I’m going to do,” Gray said. “That involves respecting the work of our public safety employees. But it also involves driving a hard and true bargain that’s best for everyone. Unless it’s good for everybody, it’s not good for anybody.”

Gray said he will take the same tough approach to fixing the police and firefighter pension system, which looms as perhaps the biggest financial crisis facing Lexington’s government.

When Lexington and Fayette County merged in 1974, the state General Assembly, over the city’s objections, created a separate pension fund for city police and firefighters rather than putting them in Kentucky’s County Employees Retirement System.

The city’s pension system has always been underfunded, but the liability has ballooned 900 percent since 1997. The city’s unfunded obligations to the system now total about $325 million.

There are many reasons for that unfunded liability, but a big one has been very generous disability benefits. A study showed that 42 percent of Lexington police and firefighters retire on disability, compared with 7.6 percent of Louisville police and firefighters and 8 percent in the country retirement system.

Gray said he will soon appoint a commission to study the pension problems and recommend solutions. I’m betting those solutions will require tighter rules and reduced benefits for future police and firefighters.

Convincing the General Assembly and the unions to go along with such changes is sure to be one of the biggest tests of Gray’s wrestling ability. Alligators don’t come much bigger than that.


Funeral procession lets Lexington pay respect

May 4, 2010

As people began gathering along Main Street to wait for the funeral procession of Lexington Police Officer Bryan J. Durman to pass, I asked why they were there.

The answer was always the same: “I just wanted to pay my respects.”

That’s why Brad Morris was there, too, along with his wife, Jessica, and their daughters, Grace, 3, and Lucy, 1. But their reason for being there was more personal than most.

Morris had met Durman, 27, the morning of the night he was killed by a hit-and-run driver while investigating a noise complaint on North Limestone Street.

“We met at the barbershop,” Morris said. “I got a haircut in the chair beside him, and 10 hours later he was dead.”

A Lexington firefighter for 11 years, Morris knows all too well the ever-present dangers faced by uniformed public safety workers.

Morris was driving an ambulance on Feb. 13, 2004 when he and other firefighters responded to a domestic violence call on Adams Lane in rural southeast Fayette County. A deranged gunman opened fire on them. When the shooting stopped, firefighter Brenda Cowan was dead. Morris took cover behind the ambulance until police officers could escort him to safety.

Morris said he feels for the slain officer’s family — as well as the suspect’s family. And he understands the pain felt by other officers on the scene with Durman that fatal night. Survivor’s guilt can be  haunting — if only this or that had been different.

“It can happen any day, any time, any call,” Morris said. “Somebody else has a plan, and we have no idea what it is.”

Morris gently stroked his daughter Lucy’s fine blond hair as they waited for the funeral procession to arrive.

Behind them, at the edge of Phoenix Park, was the Fayette County Peace Officers Memorial. The last of the 15 police officers’ names carved on the stone was Joseph M. Angelucci, who was killed in the line of duty in 1988.

In front of the Morris family, two Fire Department ladder trucks hoisted a huge American flag across Main Street at the corner of Limestone for the funeral procession to pass beneath.

People with cameras and cell phones snapped photos of the billowing flag and shiny fire trucks, which sparkled in the sunshine of a perfect spring afternoon. But when the funeral procession arrived, the crowd hushed.

The silence continued for 45 minutes as 600 police cars and emergency vehicles from across the region, their blue and red lights flashing, escorted Durman’s hearse at about 20 mph.

City hall, the courthouses, banks, law offices, stores and the Downtown Public Library emptied as employees joined passersby on the sidewalks. Some city employees clutched small flags.

“We have a lot of respect for our police officers and firefighters and our service men and women,” said Becky Watts, who works in the Community Trust Bank Building. “They serve our community and this is a way to show our respect.”

Greg Morton and Sonya Knox don’t work downtown, but they drove in from home to watch the procession at Courthouse Plaza.

“I just wanted to pay my respects,” Morton said. “It’s tragic when a life ends that young. He was just doing his job.”

Click on each thumbnail to see complete photo:


Using police, research to design against crime

January 11, 2010

Want to know what makes a home or neighborhood vulnerable to crime? Ask police officers; they see it every day.

That’s the basic idea behind Safe by Design, a program that will be launched soon by the Lexington Police Department and Eastern Kentucky University’s Center for Crime and the Built Environment.

The voluntary program will help Lexington developers, architects, planners and property owners build and renovate safer homes, neighborhoods and commercial buildings by using design principles known to discourage crime.

The program will include standards and certification that could lead to marketing opportunities for builders, and eventually insurance discounts for property owners.

Safe by Design might be the first program of its kind in the nation, but it is based on a successful 20-year-old program in England, said Derek Paulsen, director of the EKU center and a member of Lexington’s Planning Commission.

Last March, Paulsen took several Lexington developers and police officials to England to see that program, Secured by Design. It has been credited with sharply reducing crime, especially in public housing projects.

“I thought it was too good to be true,” Lexington Police Chief Ronnie Bastin said. “But once I saw it, it was very convincing. The beauty of this is in its simplicity.”

The idea behind the program is that police officers and academics who research crime know which design factors in buildings and neighborhoods have been shown to encourage or discourage crime.

Those factors include the design and strength of doors, windows and locks; landscaping considerations, such as shrubbery height; sidewalk, window and garbage can placement; the style, placement and height of fencing; and site plans that maximize visibility.

Some of the guidelines are common sense, but not all are. For example, Bastin said he would have assumed that the more outdoor lighting around a building, the better. But research has shown that it’s not necessary to create a lot of light pollution. The key is to put the right amount of light in the right places to discourage criminals and make people feel safe.

Most of these factors don’t limit architectural expression or esthetic. It’s not about designing fortresses, just avoiding known mistakes.

“A lot of these things we’re looking at are things the police have been seeing forever … but architects or builders may not know about, or naturally think about,” Paulsen said. “If you do it up front, you fix these problems with a pencil at little cost.”

Common building design issues in Lexington that encourage crime include overgrown shrubs, tall privacy fences and a lack of windows on the sides of houses, Bastin said. They give criminals places to hide and can conceal a burglary or other crime in progress.

“There are areas of town where we wish we had had the opportunity to point out some of these things” before construction, Bastin said. “Once it’s built, (police) inherit it, and then we have to pour in resources that could be conserved or used for other things.”

Paulsen said he plans to work with manufacturers and use British testing data to create a certification program for burglar-resistant doors and windows.

Paulsen said he and police officers are working with the developers of new pedestrian and bicycle trails to make sure they are designed with crime prevention in mind. Design factors include ensuring good visibility at all points.

A common myth is that trails increase neighborhood crime. Paulsen said studies have shown that homes beside well-designed trails experience less crime than other homes.

Paulsen would like to see the Safe by Design standards made mandatory for future public housing in Lexington.

He also said he thinks most developers of new property, and people renovating older buildings, will be eager to participate in the program voluntarily. Some already have contacted the police department for advice, he said.

“We’re not trying to be planners or architects,” Paulsen said. “We’re just trying to bring some expertise to the table that might avoid problems before they happen.”