Politics & Government

Father of slain trooper asks Kentucky to upgrade glass in cruisers, make other safety changes

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, left, talks to Joe Ponder, father of slain state police trooper.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo, left, talks to Joe Ponder, father of slain state police trooper. Lexington Herald-Leader

FRANKFORT — If his son had been in a Kentucky State Police cruiser with stronger bullet-resistant windows, he might still be alive, Joseph Ponder said Tuesday.

Trooper Joseph Cameron Ponder's father, from Elizabethtown, appeared with Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo and other lawmakers at a news conference in the Capitol Annex to ask Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer to recommend ways to increase trooper safety in the field.

Trooper Ponder was gunned down in his cruiser Sept. 13 after a traffic stop in Western Kentucky on Interstate 24 near Eddyville. He was 31.

In addition to upgrades of the windows of police cruisers, Brewer said, he wants to review the armored vests troopers wear.

He said the bullet that killed Ponder entered from the side, where his bulletproof vest offered no protection. Brewer called it "a one-in-10,000 shot."

Ponder was shot by Joseph Johnson-Shanks, who was later killed by another state trooper after allegedly ignoring orders to lower his weapon.

Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, acknowledged that he is not an expert in police safety and said he got the idea for improved safety from his cousin, Jeff Stumbo, a former police officer.

He said he asked Brewer to develop options to improve safety that might require funding by the legislature when it convenes next year in January.

Stumbo said he wasn't endorsing any specific products, but he suggested considering bullet-resistant laminates for cruiser windows "to better protect our front-line officers."

A preliminary check, Stumbo said, showed that it would cost about $5,000 to put laminates on a cruiser. With about 600 front-line cruisers in Kentucky, that would cost about $3 million.

"No matter what the cost is, we can't turn our back on this," Stumbo said.

Any legislation to improve police safety, Stumbo said, would be named in honor of Trooper Ponder.

"We in the General Assembly stand ready to act in a positive manner to protect our law enforcement community and to do justice where justice is due so this life was not given in vain," he said.

Brewer said he appreciates Stumbo's efforts and cautioned anyone against making a quick judgment on what happened that night.

Brewer said that no state trooper had been killed in the line of duty since December 1988.

The police commissioner said Ponder's training and equipment were top-notch. "We're not saying this man did anything wrong," he said.

It would be hard to replicate the fatal shot, he said.

Brewer said it was too early for him to say whether a laminated window would have saved Ponder's life.

"There are many kinds of laminates out there," Brewer said.

He said he will review state police agencies across the nation to see whether they use laminates.

He said he wants to make sure that an officer could shoot from inside while in a cruiser with such laminates.

Kentucky uses stock cruisers from automobile dealers, Brewer said. Bullet-penetration protections are made by private vendors, he said.

Joseph Ponder, the slain trooper's father, said he will do everything he can to protect troopers who "defend and protect us every day."

Ponder said he joined the effort to honor his son. "I'm willing to follow this road as far as it will lead."