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Chief Credits Culture Change as Ludlow Sees 3-Year Low in Crime Calls

At the November meeting of the Ludlow city council, a significant statistic was highlighted. 

The police department had seen its lowest call volume in October in three years.

Over the past three years, the city had averaged around 1,200 calls per month, sometimes as high as 1,400. Now, the department gets about 680 calls per month, on average.

Chief Scott Smith, who took over in June 2015, credits a change of culture within the department, particularly with how it interacts with the community.

"A lot of it is, we've focused on talking to the teens and not just going by and barking at them, but speaking to them and getting more respect. We rarely ever turn down an opportunity to do something in the community," said Smith. "If a church or a school asks us to speak or to bring the dogs, we do it."

Whether it's passing out food and gifts at the holidays or volunteering in other ways, Smith has made it a priority to have the department's officers interacting with the community.

"When I came here two and a half years ago, the very first thing I did was I walked the streets and talked to people and found out what they wanted, what they needed and expected," Smith said. "Nobody knew the officers here. They didn't know the cops here, so they had no reason to trust anybody."

That was a challenge for the Greensburg, In. native and Army veteran who came to Ludlow after stints with the Newport and Independence Police Departments. But, Smith is persistent and tough. He's a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He had no desire to become a police chief when he first started, he said. He just wanted to do right by the citizens.

"It was hard to change the culture and dynamics of this department without changing the dynamics of the community, so we did something real simple and mindblowing," Smith said, with an air of sarcasm. "We walked and got out of our cars.

"One of my biggest things is, everyone I come into contact with, I imagine they are related to me. How would I speak to them if they were related to me?"

That change meant getting away from the attitude that "everyone is a criminal". "99.9 percent of people are not criminals," the chief said. "We're going to give them a chance to speak to us, and the only way to do that is out of the cars, and more than just going to the coffee shops and gas stations, but going into the neighborhoods, taking walks, so people can have a face-to-face. That way, when we ask people for help, they're more willing to help."
 
On their walks, officers will occasionally pass out brochures produced by the department, offering insight into how to contact the police and what the department is about. A new printing and distribution is coming soon, Smith said.
 
And even though Ludlow's population is 98.5 percent white, and less than half a percent black, Smith also led a local conversation about racial issues and policing, inviting other local chiefs to participate in the day-long event with the FBI, the NAACP, and others. "My comment is, I don't think people dislike cops. I think they don't know the cops and you can't like somebody you don't know. You can't trust somebody you don't know."
 
"We're asking somebody to talk about their neighbor to call us or to give information. We're asking for their trust," Smith said. "We have to get to get them to get to know us."
 
The progress in Ludlow has happened in spite of the small city not being so sleepy since Smith took over. Like other cities in the region, it is gripped by a heroin crisis, but Ludlow has also seen an officer-involved shooting in which that officer was wounded and killed a suspect, a high-profile death of a sick teenaged boy, and another officer has battled cancer. 
 
"I had done everything in my first year and a half as a chief that most chiefs do in their whole careers," Smith said.
 
"A lot of it is, the guys have taken ownership in their jobs. They have become more involved to be able to effect change, and we train every month. Every other month we do hands-on training, whether it be combative, simulation, or traffic stops," he said. That training also involves other departments from the area. "We really try to gear it towards how we want the department to go. We don't keep it old school. We try to find the best person out there to come in." He noted that Covington's training officers has come in to talked about drunk and drugged drivers.
 
"We're not just sitting around and letting what we have done in the past dictate what we're doing in the future. We're seeking out all the current training."
 
The change has been welcomed by Mayor Ken Wynn, who noted that all the city's professional leadership have helped move the city in the right direction, from administration to fire and to public works.
 
"Chief Smith, along with all other department heads and city staff, has been working hard to provide better service to our residents by building community relations and through more effective and proper planning," Wynn said. "I am very proud of the city staff and the work they do in the city. Their hard work is why Ludlow is the upcoming place to be."
 
Wynn and Smith will soon have something else in common: business ownership.
 
The mayor operates Wynners Cup Cafe on Elm Street, and soon, Chief Smith will bring his martial arts expertise to a facility up the road, inside the old bingo hall across from Ludlow-Bromley Yacht Club. "My niche has always been self-defense," Smith said. That's what his focus will be at the new Northern Kentucky Martial Arts Academy, particularly for women. But, the facility will also accommodate training for police officers and other first responders.
 
"My desire and whole thing is survival and fitness," said Smith. "I really emphasize getting out of bad positions, and getting out of bad situations."
 
Smith, who will be assisted by other instructors, including Ludlow Police Detective Jason Compton, wants to make the facility a hub for Northern Kentucky first responders. "I want to train every officer in Northern Kentucky so we're all doing the same thing so there aren't mistakes, and so when someone sees you on the news, you're not getting carried away out of fear."
 
The goal is to have every officer in the region understand each situation the same way because they have had the same training. 
 
Smith hopes to have his business open in January, when he'll expand on the self-defense programs he already offers women. Those programs tend to be shorter.
 
"It's just enough for people to forget," the chief said. "I want to do eight to ten-week courses for women and really get them to where they feel comfortable defending themselves."
 
The passion for building a relationship with the community will also be present in the business just as it has been in the department. Smith plans to offer anti-bullying programs for kids, and hopes to work with the schools on that. For kids who can't afford to attend, he hopes to offer scholarships.
 
And his own department will continue to train, and to build relationships with neighbors.
 
"The guys care about the community," he said. "I'm giving them the stuff that they should have had to give them the training, but none of it would be successful if they didn't do it, if they weren't out there talking to the people. They make an effort to solve crimes and they care whether or not things are being done."
 
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher
Photo: Chief Scott Smith at Ludlow City Building (RCN)