ASHLAND — The Police Department in Ashland is tucked between an old-fashioned mom-and-pop pharmacy and a small café on East Broadway.
With six officers, a small department like Ashland's is commonly considered a first job, straight out of the academy. New recruits gain experience, then set their sights on something bigger.
Ashland Police Chief Lyn Woolford said he hopes to change that. He wants to keep officers around for the long haul.
“That unfortunately is the demise of a small department — they’re good training grounds to move onto something bigger, better,” Woolford said.
“I understand that people want to move up in their careers and not sort of stagnate, but I hope the majority of my officers find this to be a home and stay with me for an extended period.”
Woolford works to create a family dynamic within the department. Building that kind of relationship is much easier with a six-person department, he said.
“In a larger department, you still kind of get that family mixture, but maybe not with everybody,” he said. “Here we’re much closer because of the size. It’s just us, so we have to get to know each other.”
The size also helps alleviate confusion in training; more time can be spent one-on-one with every new officer.
This was the case for Brayden Duckworth who joined the Ashland Police Department six months ago.
“It’s nice that I can call my captain at home anytime,” Duckworth said. “I can just be like, ‘Hey, I have this and I’m not exactly sure what to do. Here was my thought process…’ and he’ll coach me through it.”
Duckworth pointed to many benefits of starting in Ashland, but his favorite is working a case from start to finish. That is something larger departments delegate only to specialized units, he said.
“I’m the primary officer and I’m also the investigator and the guy that drives to the court to get a search warrant,” he said.
The staffing of Ashland's force is feasible because of a lower call volume. Officers said the volume varies by shift, but sometimes an entire 12-hour shift will not have a single call.
That can be a drawback for officers-in-training, said Capt. Terry Toalson.
“With a much lower call volume, it can take years to get them to having experience with all of the different types of calls you get daily in a city,” he said.
Woolford explained that the officers do take their jobs beyond law enforcement to community policing and service-related work.
“It could be anything from a flooded basement to an animal in the house that you need to get out — a bird, a raccoon, whatever it may be — we would assist with that,” he said. “It’s similar to what the fire department does. You don’t have a fire, but you need the help.”
This includes other types of community outreach, even jobs as small as giving junior officer stickers to children at football games.
“We want to be approachable and want people to feel comfortable that we’re here to do what needs to be done, but we’re not always in the enforcement mode,” Woolford said.
Supervising editors are Jeanne Abbott and Judd Slivka.