Garrard County is creating a county police department, but a former sheriff questions the decision to start a new agency to absorb the law-enforcement responsibilities of the sheriff’s office.
“I don’t think it should switch over and go to a county police force,” said Ronnie Wardrip, who was sheriff for 15 years until he retired in 2014.
Wardrip said there is potential for political interference in a county police department because it would be under the control of Garrard Fiscal Court. A sheriff’s office has more independence, even though a fiscal court approves the sheriff’s budget.
“Whenever you have five magistrates and a county judge controlling everything, I just think there’s too much politics involved in it,” Wardrip said.
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If all goes as planned, sheriff’s deputies are scheduled to resign Dec. 29 and then be rehired by the new county police force, Sheriff Tim Davis said. Davis has four road deputies and a school resource officer. Fiscal court plans to hire two more officers for patrols.
Tevis Graham, a deputy under Davis, will be interim chief of the new county police force. Davis, who took office in 2015, will remain as sheriff, and he will have the constitutional duty to collect property taxes.
Asked what the county police department would be able to do that a sheriff’s office can’t, Davis referred questions to Judge-Executive John Wilson: “You better ask John, because he has the answer for that.”
Asked whether the switch to a county police department was something he wished to do, Davis said: “Fiscal court and John Wilson have decided to do this, so I am trying to assist them in the best way I can. It’s the best for the public.”
Wilson couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday, but in a Facebook post he praised the fiscal court’s “progressive step” of “streamlining limited county resources and creating a county police force using existing personnel and assets from the sheriff’s office.”
“By bringing the deputies under the umbrella of the fiscal court, we can create an economy of scale, allow greater access to grant funding, and by saving limited tax dollars by eliminating duplicity, we believe we can expand county law enforcement coverage,” he said in the post.
Former sheriff Wardrip acknowledged that there are limited tax dollars in the rural county of nearly 17,000 residents, but he said he didn’t know whether there are more grant opportunities.
“There are only certain things you can get grants for, and I applied for them all the time for extra deputies. … But that’s so selective now, very few departments get those grants any more,” Wardrip said.
In most counties, sheriff’s offices and Kentucky State Police handle law enforcement duties in rural areas, and cities have police departments within their city limits.
Kenton, Campbell and Oldham counties have county police departments in addition to sheriff’s offices.
Woodford County once had a county police department, but that department merged with the Versailles Police Department in 2004. Jackson County briefly had a county police department, but its duties have reverted to the sheriff’s office.
Jackson County is the only place that started a county police force during the 10 years that Jerry Wagner has been executive director of the Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association.
Wagner said he doesn’t take a position on the establishment of a county police force, because that is up to local officials.
But Wagner said, “When citizens of a community elect anyone for a position, not necessarily a sheriff but anything you’re elected for by the people, I think the people expect you to perform what you were elected to do.”