The Kentucky State Police is struggling to keep pace with demands of the job due to a manpower shortage, an aging and high-mileage fleet, a lack of long guns and failing radio equipment.
Statewide, the agency has about 840 sworn officers, only about 500 of whom are road troopers. The agency is considered fully staffed at 1,070 sworn law enforcement officers, said Lt. Brad Arterburn, branch commander of recruitment based in Frankfort. More than 100 are eligible to retire.
KSP Commissioner Rick Sanders recently told lawmakers the agency has reached a critical point. Appearing before the Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice and Judiciary on Oct. 26, Sanders expressed thanks for trooper pay raises last year, asked lawmakers not to reduce his budget this year and discussed the agency’s dire needs.
State police need 260 cars within 12 to 18 months, then about 180 new cars every year to retire the aging fleet. Currently, some cars have as many as 200,000 miles, Sanders said. New troopers from the last cadet class received cars with an average of 140,000 miles.
“We had (a trooper) a few months ago that was responding to a fellow trooper that had been stabbed, and on the way to that stabbing the trooper’s transmission went out,” Sanders said to lawmakers. “His car was approaching 200,000 miles and he was trying to get to that trooper to help save his life and he didn’t make it. He ended up getting out of his cruiser and running, on foot, toward the scene and fortunately he was picked up by another trooper who was en route.”
In an interview with the Daily News on Friday, Sanders further detailed the agency’s needs and the local impact at Post 3 in Bowling Green, where he said staffing is at such a critical point that “they’re down to where they can’t do their job.”
“I recognize that there is limited revenue that the state has,” Sanders told the Daily News. “However, I want my troopers and the citizenry to be provided the most professional, well-trained and adequately equipped law enforcement service in the commonwealth.”
“We put a lot of wear and tear on these vehicles,” Sanders said of the KSP fleet. “These vehicles are going at high rates of speed. We sometimes have to jump medians to get where we need to be. We need cars that are structurally sound and not worn out.”
In addition to vehicles, some KSP troopers may also soon face the reality of being outgunned.
“The other issue is rifles,” Sanders told lawmakers. “I learned after becoming a member of this agency that we were carrying Army surplus rifles, M16s. These are Vietnam-era rifles. And then about a month ago, we got a notice from DOD (U.S. Department of Defense) that they were going to recall all of our rifles.
“So it’s bad enough that we were carrying M16 rifles from (the) Vietnam era, but now we’re stuck with no rifles, and a patrol rifle is an essential tool for our troopers to do their job. We just mustered enough money to order 200 rifles and we spent every penny we had to do that. So we’re still in need of 800 rifles so that we can assign those rifles to all of our sworn personnel – not us in headquarters, but those out on the street,” he said to lawmakers.
If all of the M16 guns are recalled, that will leave some troopers without a long gun, Sanders told the Daily News.
“We’re not asking for tanks,” he said. “We’re just asking for weapons so that we can be armed as heavily as the threat.”
During many recent mass shootings, shooters were armed with semi-automatic long guns – in most cases AR-15s.
“I can’t imagine not having access to a long gun,” Bowling Green-Warren County Drug Task Force Director Tommy Loving said. Loving retired from KSP after a 27-year career. His last assignment was at Post 3 in Bowling Green until 1996; in 1997, he became the task force director.
“If we want to look at the (Sutherland Springs, Texas) church shooting of last weekend, the guy was armed with a long gun, a semi-automatic rifle and if you’re approaching him, he has the advantage of being much more effective with firing from a long range than an officer would have from a handgun,” Loving said.
With most state troopers policing in rural areas, the need for a long gun is even greater, Sanders told the Daily News.
Failing radios, short staffing
KSP’s radio equipment is dying, Sanders told lawmakers.
“We’re now being told by Motorola that the radios, parts for those radios, are no longer in existence and we can’t order replacement parts of those radios,” he said. “So this radio system is going to die within the next couple of years, and we’re going to have to do something so that we can communicate with our troopers out on the road. ...
“If someone is breaking into your house, you’re going to call the police. ... If the radios don’t work, if the cars don’t work, we’re not going to be able to get there,” he said during the budget hearing.
But cars, radios and guns aren’t the only challenges facing the agency. Staffing levels are so critical at Post 3 in Bowing Green that troopers can’t get to all of the calls, Sanders said.
“They’re down to where they can’t do their job,” Sanders told lawmakers about Post 3. “They don’t have enough troopers to respond to calls for service.”
Calls for service are increasing at Post 3 – which covers Allen, Barren, Butler, Edmonson, Hart, Logan, Simpson and Warren counties – but manpower is decreasing. In 2013, Post 3 troopers received 12,758 complaints. By 2015, that number had increased to 13,357.
Currently, 35 sworn troopers and one arson investigator work at Post 3, Post Commander Capt. John Clark said.
Of that number, 21 troopers are on the road responding to calls – seven are detectives and seven are supervisors. In 2014, Post 3 had 29 road troopers, seven detectives and eight supervisors.
Comparatively, when Loving worked as a road trooper for the state police in Bowling Green – from the late 1970s to early 1980s – there were about 18 troopers assigned to patrol Warren County alone.
“And in that same era we had between 44 and 48 troopers working the entire post. I can remember working the road in Warren County and thinking it was a busy night when we only had three troopers working in Warren County,” Loving said.
“Now I’m told there might be a time when there are only three or four (road troopers) in the entire post. And with all my years in law enforcement, that is certainly an officer-safety issue as it’s obvious to me that times have become more violent with more gun crimes than there were back in the late ’70s and ’80s,” Loving said.
During Loving’s tenure, the nearest backup might have been 10-15 minutes away in some areas. Now help could be as much as 45 minutes away.
Butler County Sheriff Scottie Ward, also a retired KSP trooper, said the state’s manpower shortage is risky for small sheriff’s offices such as his, where there are only five deputies.
“The state police is our backup and when they don’t have the personnel to do their job, it puts us all at risk,” Ward said.
Sanders also pointed out KSP investigations now include the opioid epidemic and electronic crimes primarily related to child sexual predators, requiring state police to allocate manpower specifically aimed at those issues.
In addition, “we’re responding to more officer-involved shootings than I’ve ever seen. It’s certainly more violent today than it was when I was young cop. We’ve always had line-of-duty deaths but we’ve really not seen the assaults on police that we now see,” Sanders said.
Post 3 is one of the KPS posts in most need of manpower, he said.
“We’re starting a class Jan. 6. We’re hoping to start 78 cadets in that class. Of that, we hope to graduate 60 but I can’t predict that. I hope all 78 show up. When those cadets become troopers, Post 3 will become one of the first posts we look at to send people to,” Sanders said.
KSP has held 10 recruitment fairs across the state in an effort to encourage people to apply to become state troopers, Arterburn said.
Sanders said fewer people are interested in pursuing law enforcement careers for a variety of reasons, including public sentiment about police and issues with the state’s pension system. However, even if the state police academy graduated 250 officers tomorrow, there isn’t enough money in the current budget to pay them.
Although full staffing is considered 1,070 troopers, KSP only has enough funding to pay for up to 900, Lt. Col. Chad White told lawmakers during the budget hearing.
“I find it very shameful that the past few governors and legislative sessions have allowed the state police to get to this level,” Loving said. “Gov. Bevin and the last session did implement a new pay scale that appears to be helpful for retention and is just beginning to get the troopers’ salaries somewhat upgraded as many of them had not had a pay raise in seven years. I hope that’s a positive sign but there is a lot more to do and the only people who can resolve this problem are the legislature and the governor.
“One of the primary functions of government is to protect its citizens, and when they have let the state police get into the shape it’s in with manpower and equipment, then I’m not sure what that says about the priorities of some elected officials,” Loving said.
Lawmakers will convene in January and set a budget for the next two years.