The "thin gray line" of the Kentucky State Police is getting much thinner.
Since the beginning of this year, 31 sworn officers have chosen retirement, leaving the state police with its smallest force in at least five years.
The agency now has 931 sworn officers, down significantly from the 1,013 it had in 2005. And it's going to get worse.
"There tends to be a secondary wave of retirements at the end of the year," said Lt. Phil Crumpton, a spokesman for the Kentucky State Police.
Meanwhile, it remains uncertain whether the state will find funding to train a new class of recruits in January.
Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer will present his case for the new class Tuesday to the Kentucky State Police personnel board, just one step the police must take to get new recruits.
It's unclear how much it would cost to train new officers. Recruit classes vary. Last year, there were 61 new police officers, Crumpton said.
KSP post officials say that because the retirements have been at nearly every one of the state's 16 police posts and in nearly every division — patrol, detectives and commanders — no one area is feeling the pinch more than others.
"We're not hurting right now," said Trooper Walt Meachum at the Harlan County post, which has had four officers retire, bringing the number to 49. "Our post is not as bad as some other posts."
Meachum and others say that without new recruits next winter, the state police could be in trouble.
"You always need more people," he said. "We have about 930 sworn personnel ... and we have 120 counties in this state."
And in many of those smaller counties, which have few big cities and only two or three sheriff's deputies, the state police answer the bulk of the emergency calls.
The downturn in the number of police officers comes as the force is celebrating its 60th anniversary.
It was in the 1960s that the state police were given the nickname "thin gray line," reflecting that the agency was one of the few that wore gray uniforms and drove gray vehicles.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was a push to hire more police officers as the state police added more divisions. Many of those officers are now retiring, Meachum said.
But the state police is not the only state agency facing many retirements.
By mid-August, more than 2,800 of the state's 33,000 employees had chosen to take retirement and cash in on enhanced retirement benefits designed to lure more people off the state's cash-strapped payroll.