Outgoing Lima Police chief reflects on career

·10 min read

May 22—LIMA — Throughout his 36-year career in law enforcement, the last 11 as chief of the Lima Police Department, Kevin Martin has never been one to seek the limelight or the headlines.

Ask him about the city's Community Oriented Policing efforts and he'll quickly tell you it was his predecessor, Greg Garlock, who launched that program. Martin has simply done his best to keep it running, he'll say.

School resource officers? Yes, that concept was developed under Martin's watch. But he insists it was Lima schools superintendent Jill Ackerman that took the ball and ran with it to secure the funding to get resource officers in every school building in the district.

Body cameras? Martin says it's just a logical extension of police cruiser dash cameras that were put in place long before he became chief, even though he was the driving force to get every officer on the streets of Lima equipped with the body cams for the protection of officers and community members alike.

But as he sat down earlier this week to take a look back at his career, which now has less than two weeks remaining before his June 3 retirement, Martin did find a subject that made him beam.

"If you were to ask what I'm most satisfied with during my tenure, it would be just that I think we have developed much stronger and better partnerships throughout the community with other organizations," Martin said. "We're getting more people within the community, more organizations within the community, to partner with us to help us identify problems but to also identify solutions and to make those solutions workable."

In the beginning

A 1981 graduate of Lima Senior High School, Martin entered the Marine Corps immediately after earning his diploma. He returned to Lima four years later with the goal of becoming a cop.

"I actually knew that from the time I was in about third grade that I wanted to pursue a career in law enforcement, and one of the reasons I joined the Marines was that I couldn't afford to go to college right out of high school and I knew I had to have something to fill the gap between the ages of 18 and 21. So that's why I enlisted," he said.

When his stint in the Marine Corps ended, Martin returned to Lima, took a job at Cook's department store and attended Lima Technical College to gain the education necessary for police work.

"I got hired on at the police department in April of 1986 as a corrections officer, when we still had our own jail here. Six months later I got an appointment as a patrol officer."

Martin rose steadily through the ranks of the LPD. He was promoted to sergeant in June of 1995; earned the rank of lieutenant in July of 2001 and was promoted to major in May of 2005. On April 15, 2011, he succeeded Garlock as the LPD's new chief.

Constant evolution

Martin has seen numerous departmental changes during the past three decades.

"There has been a lot of change over the years in the weapons that are issued. When I came on (to the force) we did not have Tasers. We carried revolvers, where now our officers have automatic weapons. And we never used to issue patrol rifles to the officers like we do now," Martin said. "Because of all of the mass shootings we've seen around the country our officers have to be prepared for different types of situations.

"But I'll tell you what hasn't changed, and that's the need for officers that will interact with the community; the need to have officers who are of the highest integrity as well as having the highest levels of compassion. Officers need to be strong in order to be able to handle very tough situations, but they also have to have compassion when it comes to such things as providing comfort to crime victims or the family members of victims ... that sort of thing. The need to be a good police officer has not changed."

A turning point

Of the many high-profile events that took place during Martin's tenure with the LPD, none left a more indelible mark on his career than did the shooting death of Tarika Wilson during a poorly executed drug raid.

On Jan. 4, 2008, LPD officers entered Wilson's home on East Third Street. During the chaos, one officer saw someone peeking in and out of a doorway as he ascended a stairway. He mistakenly thought he was being fired upon and shot and killed the unarmed Wilson, who was holding her 1-year-old baby at the time.

Racial tensions rose quickly throughout the city when word got out that a white cop had shot and killed an unarmed, biracial woman.

The investigation into Wilson's death was taken over by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, which Martin said was tight-lipped in releasing information to the public surrounding the incident. That lack of information fueled rumors, led to protests and brought national attention to Lima, including a visit by civil rights leader Jesse Jackson.

Martin was a major in the patrol services division at the time. He said Wilson's death had a lasting effect on the remainder of his career.

"It had an incredible impact on both the department and me personally, as well as the entire community," Martin said. "It was one of those things where there were no good answers to what happened. It was a tragic situation. But as a result, there were some great lessons learned in that process of trying to determine the facts of what happened.

"At the same time, it was one of those things where everybody lost. There were no winners in a circumstance like that. It was a very tragic event and to this day my heart still goes out to Tarika's family as well as to the officers that were involved. Certainly, there was suffering on their part as well."

Race relations in Lima today?

Wilson's death led to greater transparency within the police department, a core value that Martin emphasized throughout his tenure as chief.

"The lack of information from BCI during the Wilson investigation caused more harm than it helped," Martin said. "And so I think the law enforcement profession as a whole has certainly come to value transparency far more than we ever used to do. When I first came on (the force), we never talked about anything. Now — not just because of the situation with Tarika Wilson but with the expectations of society in general — I think we're a lot more open in those areas where we can be. Sometimes there are things that we cannot release because it might harm an investigation or it deny somebody their constitutional rights, but for those things that we can put out to the community, I think it's important that we do so.

"I think race relations in the community are certainly better now than they've been in a long time," Martin said. "But that doesn't mean that we've arrived at some kind of a point where we can just start resting on our laurels; we still have a lot of work to be done."

One of Martin's biggest frustrations as chief is that efforts to recruit more minority police officers have not yielded the anticipated results.

"I've sought help from others in the community because my ideas have not been fruitful," Martin said, "so I'm still hoping the next chief or maybe others after me will be able to come up with some method or some process or some messaging that will help to recruit more minorities. I do believe if we have a workforce that is more representative of the community, people are going to be more trusting of their police department."

Negative reputation undeserved?

A perception that Martin hears often is that Lima is a crime-ridden city; a dangerous place to live, work and play.

"Lima has a bad reputation and really does not deserve it," the chief said. "I've often heard people say things like, 'Oh, I won't walk downtown in the evenings because it's just not safe.' They seem to think that there's crime constantly occurring downtown. And yet as someone who not only works as a police officer but frequently comes downtown in the evenings, never have I been bothered. So it's one of those things where the perception is worse than the reality."

Martin said the fear of crime sometimes is harder to deal with than actual crime.

"We took well over 100 illegal guns off the streets of Lima last year. But we have become more cognizant about making sure that the public understands the why of what we do, not just what we're actually doing. Violent crime is down in the city. Until we get to a point where it's zero is not going to be down enough, but at least it is trending in a better direction."

Mentors and mayors

Martin started his career in law enforcement during the administration of former Mayor Gene Joseph but spent the bulk of his tenure serving under Mayor David Berger. Current Mayor Sharetta Smith assumed the reins of the city earlier this year and Martin said he wishes he could have worked with her for a while longer.

"It's kind of bittersweet, because Sharetta has brought an incredible level of new energy and new ideas into the community. This is really a good time to be a leader within the community. That's what made it harder for me to come to the decision to retire.

"The ideas that she's brought into the office regarding improving housing, improving training opportunities for young people, those types of things ... new ideas for economic development; she's bringing in just some really good ideas," Martin said.

"Don't misunderstand me: I was honored to serve under Dave Berger. But Sharetta has brought some real excitement back into the city, I believe."

His replacement?

Martin's interview for this story took place on the day when two of his majors — Angel Cortes and James Baker — were taking a civil service test to determine who will be the next chief of the Lima Police Department. Martin said that regardless of who comes away with the job the community will be in good hands.

"I'm glad I'm not making the decision because they're both very good friends of mine and have been for many, many years. What I can say about both of them is that they're both very competent, capable, intelligent individuals. Whichever one of them gets promoted to the chief's position will serve this community well. I'm very, very confident of that," Martin said. "Whoever is the next chief, the community wins."

Baker was out of the office this week and could not be reached for comment, but Cortes remembered his colleague fondly, saying Martin has honorably served the community for the past 35 years.

"He always put the community needs before his own and has worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life for those living in and visiting the Lima community," Cortes said. "We wish him well in his retirement from the Lima Police Department and thank him for all he has done.

Final thoughts

In typical fashion, as this interview came to an end Martin downplayed the role he has played as Lima's top cop over the past decade.

"I have been incredibly blessed over throughout my entire career to work with great people. I had great mentors, guys like Jim Thorburn, Greg Garlock, Dick Shade ... lots of others. I've always had incredible mentors and even as chief I've been blessed to have incredibly good people around me.

"I've always had one of the best jobs in town because other people do all the really good, solid work and I get to look good just by sheer luck."