Elizabethtown Police: ‘Special relationship’ with community is backbone behind city’s safety

Elizabethtown Police: ‘Special relationship’ with community is backbone behind city’s safety
The Elizabethtown Police Department frequently receives cards like this one from residents grateful for their service.
The Elizabethtown Police Department frequently receives cards like this one from residents grateful for their service. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
The Elizabethtown Police Department has a sign posting its organizational values.
The Elizabethtown Police Department has a sign posting its organizational values. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

Sometimes, they’re simple gestures, so small they can be overlooked.

For Toni Williams, one particular small act of kindness is something she will always remember.

”With the storm a couple of weeks ago, I couldn’t get out with my car,” Williams said. ”That car slid back down that hill and I got out and went back in the house and I was like, ‘I’m not going to try that no more.’”

Williams is the SNAP Education Assistant at the Hardin County Extension Center. Her job is to help people with low income sustain a healthy diet. A few weeks ago, when Elizabethtown was hit with an ice storm, Williams needed a little help herself.

To her rescue came Elizabethtown police.

”I called and said, ‘Hey, I need a ride to work,’ and they were there,” Williams said. “So I texted (Officer Chris Denham) and he was like, ‘What time you need to be there?’ And he came and picked me up and dropped me here at work.”

Sometimes the acts of kindness are bigger and come during matters of life and death.

That’s what happened in the case of Angie Montes.

”(He was) violent and wanted to attack me, attack my husband,” Montes said. “He was just not in a good way and I was fearful.”

Five years ago, Montes’ father, who was fighting dementia, lashed out in a moment of confusion. He had just immigrated to Kentucky from Puerto Rico, and was unaware of his surroundings. Montes, who at the time was new to Elizabethtown herself, called police because she did not know what else to do.

A few minutes later, Elizabethtown police responded, defused the situation and provided Montes with resources to help her father get long-term care.

”They spoke to my father,” she said. “They calmed him down. They understood. One of them took me outside and said, ‘Hey, this is what you’re going to do to take care of your father. Maybe you should get some help.’ And he gave me a resource that really, until my father passed away, was the best resource.”

There are more stories where these came from. To find them, just step foot inside the police department.

The messages are written down and taped to the walls, thanking the men and women in blue for those acts of kindness over the years.

”We’re overwhelmed,” said Denham, the department’s public information officer. “We’re showered with love and support from the citizens, and this is not something you’ll find, in my opinion, anywhere else.”

So what is it about this department and about the city that allows for a strong relationship? The answer starts on those same walls.

What the department calls “Organizational Values” are scattered around the building, reminding officers why they took the oath to serve. Among the messages are, “Embrace the philosophy of community-oriented policing” and “Be responsive to the needs of the community.”

”It’s who we are,” Denham said. “It defines who we are.”

Denham said officers try to carry those values out into the community through acts of service.

Throughout 2020, Denham said Elizabethtown police responded to hundreds of COVID-19 birthday parades, giving children something to smile about on their special days. The department also gives a police escort to every funeral procession through town, to make sure those grieving can do so safely.

“Yes, a lot of the small things,” Patrol Officer Zach Quesenberry said. “And I think a lot of the small things in town is what separates us from the other agencies and the other cities.”

But the bond between community and department goes deeper than shedding a tear and sharing a laugh together.

The culture created in this small city of roughly 30,000 people has created real results.

Four years ago, Elizabethtown police purchased a computer simulation to train officers how to respond to thousands of scenarios. The department views the $35,000 price tag, half of which was taxpayer money, as a good investment. Officers are required to use the virtual training system at least twice a year. The department also invites citizen groups to use the software in an attempt to bridge the gap between police and community.

“This is not about shooting people,” Firearms Training Officer Chris Elam said. “It’s about using proper response to resistance, and we don’t want to give the officers the idea that every situation needs to be resolved with a handgun.”

Since the program’s inception, Denham told WAVE 3 News there’s been only one officer-involved shooting in the city.

Even more, 2019 FBI data showed the Elizabethtown metropolitan area has the fifth-lowest violent crime rate in the country: 99.8 violent crimes per 100,000 people.

”It’s immersion in this culture,” Denham said. “Those before the younger guys believe in it and therefore the guys are trained in that philosophy and they, too, buy in and they believe in it.”

It’s a relationship between police and people that’s built by acts of kindness toward each other, no matter how small.

”Etown is just such a unique place that you don’t find everywhere,” Williams said. “It’s just different.”

To see more FBI data, click here.

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