Kentucky State Police Commissioner Richard W. Sanders told lawmakers last year about a trooper who was responding to a stabbing when the transmission on his cruiser with nearly 200,000 miles went out.
The frustrated law man caught a ride with another trooper, but the story, Sanders said, underscored the state police’s need for new cars and equipment, such as rifles and radios.
Gov. Matt Bevin promised Tuesday night to fix the problem.
“One of the primary roles of government is public safety,” Bevin said in his budget address to a joint session of the Kentucky General Assembly. “We are going to invest in public safety to a degree we have not.”
Bevin is proposing increased spending in his two-year state budget for not only state police, but for prosecutors and public advocates.
“We’re very pleased by the governor’s recommendations across the board for public safety,” said Oldham Commonwealth’s Attorney Courtney Baxter of La Grange.
“For years, all of us in public safety have been dealing with the state’s opioid crisis,” Baxter said. “There has been an increase in police work, indictments and prosecutions, and we appreciate this emphasis on funding for public safety.”
Bevin’s budget, which legislators now will scrutinize, calls for about $8 million over the next two years for new state police vehicles. There also is funding for state police to replace old rifles and install a modern statewide communication system.
Last year, 41 new state troopers were assigned cars that had an average of 140,000 miles on them, Sanders told lawmakers last fall.
In their budget request, state police said they need to buy about 180 new cars a year. They also said they need about 800 new rifles to replace their Army surplus, Vietnam-era M-16 rifles.
Bevin’s budget exempts state police from the 6.25 percent cut the governor called for in most state agencies.
At the end of 2017, state police had 848 sworn officers, including about 500 troopers. Full staff is considered to 1,070.
The Republican governor’s budget also would spend about $7 million a year for 75 new prosecutors for Commonwealth’s attorneys and county attorneys.
If lawmakers approve the funding, the Kentucky Prosecutors Advisory Council will decide how the 75 new prosecutors will be divided among Commonwealth’s attorneys and county attorneys, said Henderson County Attorney Steve Gold, who is president of the Kentucky County Attorneys Association.
“The money to do this cannot be used to boost salaries for current prosecutors,” he said. “The money has to go for additional staff.”
Gold said he is “very heartened” to see the governor’s investment in public safety.
The state Department of Public Advocacy, which defends needy clients, will get 51 new public advocates under Bevin’s plan at a cost of $6 million a year.
Kentucky’s statewide public defense program has 344 full-time attorneys and 155 private attorneys on contract doing conflict representation. Together, they represented 163,152 clients last year.
“We are very, very pleased that Gov. Bevin recognizes the crushing load for our public defenders,” said state Public Advocate Damon Preston.
He said the caseload for a Kentucky public defender is about 55 percent higher than the national average.