FRANKFORT — Kentucky State Police have spent more than $170,000 on Taser devices and cartridges that troopers will be using by September.
The purchases come amid a revenue shortfall that has forced the law enforcement agency to implement cuts, including a reduction in highway patrols to save gasoline and the elimination of driver education manuals that have traditionally been provided free to Kentucky teens.
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Invoices show state police purchased 191 of the weapons in June at a cost of $145,000, plus $25,000 worth of cartridges and batteries.
Some question the timing of the purchase, considering the state's projected $900 million revenue shortfall during the next two years. Others applaud the move, saying it has the potential to save the lives of both troopers and criminal suspects.
State Sen. Charlie Borders, R-Grayson, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said if troopers need Taser weapons, state government should provide them, even when the budget is tight.
State Police Lt. Phil Crumpton said 30 troopers already were armed with Taser devices on a trial basis. The new devices will raise the number of troopers with the stun guns to 221, with plans to purchase more as funding becomes available. Crumpton said Kentucky State Police purchased the Taser devices with money from the sale of merchandise taken in criminal investigations.
The Taser purchases raise legitimate questions, especially when state police can't afford to publish driver education manuals, said state Rep. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, vice chairwoman of the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee. ”I don't think it's a prudent expenditure at this time in light of the current budget situation,“ she said.
Crumpton said the information from the driver education manuals has been made available on the Kentucky State Police Web site. He said his agency will save about $100,000 a year by not publishing the manuals.
The fuel-saving initiative calls for troopers to spend more time at roadside checkpoints and less time patrolling highways.
”Prioritizing spending would demand that fuel get put in troopers' cars before Tasers get put in holsters,“ said Jim Waters, a policy analyst for the government watchdog group Bluegrass Institute in Bowling Green. ”What good is it to have Tasers if you don't have fuel in your cars?“
Gov. Steve Beshear said he supports the Taser purchases. ”Tasers are an important tool for troopers to have at their discretion, and highlight my administration's commitment to utilizing non-lethal forms of restraint whenever possible,“ Beshear said in a written statement. ”This weaponry helps ensure public safety while decreasing the possibility of injury to the officer, suspect and public.“