Interim Head Police Chief Riley to become assistant director of public safety

Mark Riley is leaving law enforcement after almost three decades, but he’ll still be keeping the community safe

Riley has collaborated with public safety for years, during his time at the Lexington Police Department.

Mark Riley

Riley has collaborated with public safety for years, during his time at the Lexington Police Department.


Lexington’s interim head police chief will become the associate director of Public Safety at Washington and Lee University after 27 years in law enforcement.

Mark Riley said leaving the department is bittersweet, but he is ready to shed the police persona. Public Safety will be a good fit for him because he loves helping people, he said.

“Service is sort of in my heart,” Riley said. “So it’s sort of the best of both worlds … I still get to serve in this community.”

Riley joined the police force at 21-years-old after graduating from the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia, which he called “the Top Gun for cops.” He said he’s done just about every job in the building.

Riley has been interim head police chief since April, but was also in the position for a stint of about 18 months before this year.

His last day at the police department will be Friday, Oct. 23 and his first day at Washington and Lee will be Monday, Oct. 26.

“I’ll have the shortest retirement on record probably,” Riley said. “I’ll be officially retired for two days.”

Lt. Michael Frost is expected to fill the interim position, but the original 2021 city budget left the chief’s job vacant to save money, according to the Rockbridge Report.

Riley said the Lexington’s police department has collaborated with Washington and Lee Public Safety in the past, so he already knows a lot of people at the university.

Ethan Kipnes, director of public safety, said he and Riley have collaborated for over seven years. They have worked together on university events like Fancy Dress, Mock Convention and concerts as well as community events, like Martin Luther King Jr. Day parades.

“In all of the times we have worked together, Mark has always shown a very strong understanding and appreciation of W&L as part of the Lexington community,” Kipnes said in an email.

One recent collaboration between the police department and public safety is addressing reports of harassment on campus and in town.

“We’ve taken that serious and started some ag- gressive patrols,” Riley said. “We’re not targeting anybody, just based on those complaints we’re sort of stepping up our patrols. It’s the safety business, whether you’re Public Safety or the police department, safety is number one.”

Kipnes said he thinks Riley is qualified for the job because of his vast experience in the police department.

“Mark also served as the emergency services coordinator for the City of Lexington for a period of time as well, which is a big part of the job function of the position he will be filling here at W&L,” Kipnes said. “Mark will be bringing many years of great leadership and other experience to the Department of Public Safety and the university.

Riley also thinks his police experience will make for a smooth transition into the public safety department. But he does anticipate a learning curve.

“After 27 years of being in [law enforcement], then to sort of go to – I don’t know if you call it the civilian world, but it’s going to be different,” he said.

But Riley said he’s good at making relationships with people and prioritizing safety, so he’s excited for the challenge. He spoke very highly of the relationships he’s made at the police department.

“I won’t miss the circus, but I’ll miss the clowns,” he said. “People really care about what they do and man, we got a whole building full of them.”

Born and raised in Lexington, Riley said this will always be his community and that keeping it safe is of the utmost importance. He’s ready to do that in a new capacity as a member of the public safety team.

“My wife already bought me a W&L sweatshirt,” he said.