Sworn to Serve
St. Matthews Chief of Police Barry Wilkerson Talks Community, Family & More
Writer / Annette Skaggs
For some people, their job is just a job —come in, do what is needed and clock out at the end of the day. But for others, their vocations are truly a part of who they are. Chief Barry Wilkerson of the St. Matthews Police Department is one such person who lives and breathes his career. So much so, he returned back to wearing a badge after his retirement as a policeman, serving both the County and Metro Louisville Police Departments, that had eventually led to the role of Major and having worked in several departments such as SWAT, Homicide, Fleet Services and Administration.
With approximately 40-plus full and part-time officers and a field of 20 civilian employees, the St. Matthews Police Department serves and protects 18-19,000 residences in an area of Louisville that covers four square miles that include high-volume areas such as The Mall in St. Matthews, Oxmoor Mall, Baptist and Nortons Hospitals and many offices. With the myriad of commercial opportunities that are prevalent in the community, it is not unusual to believe that the population increases three to four-fold throughout the week.
When asked what a typical day is like as the chief of police for the City of St. Matthews Mr. Wilkerson laughed, saying, “Some of the duties that are tied in with this position are similar to running a small business. I am expected to wear several different hats, and be knowledgeable in disciplines such as personnel, budgets, community relations, Human Resources, Workers Rights, Policy and Policing. Sounds like a lot, and it most certainly is, but luckily I have a great team and I work a lot with the city in finding answers or filling in gaps.
“I spend a tremendous amount of time behind the desk working the administrative side of things and they are, of course, extremely important, but I do make time to get to what is second nature to me, which is being a policeman,” he adds. “I instill into my officers the importance of being engaged in the community. That engagement can be as simple as chatting with the residents of St. Matthews while in uniform or bringing your family to the Trick or Treat event that is held at Browns Park each year. When our residents see our officers being ‘human’, I believe that it helps to ease some of the ill feelings that usually come between civilians and law enforcement. That’s why it is important for me to get up from my desk and actively patrol the community that I have been sworn to protect.
“Believe me when I tell you, I feel like I have one of the best jobs in the world, save for Jeffersontown Chief of Police, [playfully referring to Chief Sam Rogers, who has served in that capacity since December 2000] “he’s got it pretty sweet there. But as lucky as I feel, there are definitely times that I wish that I had more training, such as with the administrative and governmental side of things. Fortunately, help is usually a phone call or email away, whether it be from my city or a fellow Chief.”
When asked what some of his favorite things that he gets to do as Chief, Mr. Wilkerson didn’t bat an eye.
“For me, it really is the policing and being in the community that I get the most satisfaction,” he says. “While I am not on the beat as I once was, I try to come up with ways to make sure that I am thoroughly engaged in and around the area. For example, just the other day we (the assistant chiefs and Chief Wilkerson) went around to one of the strip malls just to engage with the shoppers and the shop owners as to what their concerns and or expectations are of our police force.”
This connectivity may seem a bit unconventional for the head of a police department, but Chief Wilkerson even takes it several steps further.
“There is a citizen contact database that we used where anyone can call and either lodge complaints or report crimes or even send a compliment, if they so wish,” he says. “What I will periodically do is I will personally call these people back and talk with them either on the phone or in person if they so wish. It is funny to hear the person on the other end say, ‘I can’t believe that the Chief is actually calling me back about this’. This is the kind of personal service that I like to provide for the residents, commercial owners and visitors to our area.”
It would not be a stretch to credit Chief Wilkerson’s attention to personal service and his knowledge of law enforcement as an essential equation that makes the St. Matthews area one of the most statistically safest places to live in the Greater Louisville area. While he recognizes that there are many hot spots such as the aforementioned malls and gymnasiums, he has a lot of faith and belief in his squad to be eagle-eyed and aware.
“I get flack a lot from people that claim that crime is running rampant in the area because they saw a report on the news or on social media that St. Matthews is being overrun with car break-ins or drug deals or any such criminal activity,” he says. “While these occurrences do actually happen, their numbers don’t match what my official numbers do. Like many things that are often shared on social media you have to take with a grain of salt and do the actual research to either prove or debunk the actual story.”
In noticing that St. Matthews is going through a boom right now, Chief Wilkerson shared that the Police Department is certainly enjoying some of the benefits.
“Currently we are going through an accreditation period and we want to make sure that all of our ducks are in order,” he says. “We also recently hired an IT person who will be instrumental in shoring up our Infrastructure. We also got a bit more space where we were able to expand our evidence lockup.”
When asked why he needed more room, Chief Wilkerson laughed and said, “The Mayor asked the same thing and I assured him that it was absolutely necessary because of the retention laws as it pertains to property and seizures. I am very grateful to the Council and our Mayor as they have recognized some of these necessities and have made the provisions to make sure that me and my guys are well taken care of.
When asked about downtime the Chief laughed once again and said, “Oh, yeah, I’ve got rehearsal tonight. I play drums for the band Corridor 64. We are a cover band and perform in and around the area about three weekends a month. And while I really enjoy doing that, I also love to travel with my wife and spend time with my grandkids.”
There are a few ideals that Chief Wilkerson holds as important and essential to his work and he reminds his brigade often: Interconnectedness, Be Courteous, Professional and Do Your Job. “When one does that, everything falls into place.”