Kentucky State Police say troopers' lives at risk with decreased funding

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WKYT) - Kentucky State Police say they have some serious concerns about Governor Matt Bevin's proposed budget.

Police leaders testified at a committee meeting in Frankfort Tuesday to address the funding issues.

Police commissioner Rick Sanders says he was thrilled to hear during Governor Bevin's budget address that some of their biggest needs were a priority; things like new vehicles, modern weapons, and new lab equipment.

However, weeks later finding out they'd actually see a $12 million cut in their two-year budget.

"The past month and a half has been a roller coaster ride," said Commissioner Sanders.

Justice secretary John Tilley joined Sanders during the hearing, and he believes the reduced funding was an error.

"There was a mistake made. The cut was incorrectly made to the state police. I think everyone understands it was a mistake and we need to fix it," Tilley said.

Sanders pointed to the weapons state law enforcement use as one of the reasons why he is looking for more funding.

"Right now we are using Vietnam-era rifles which is just sad," Sanders explained.

Tilley suggests budget-tightening measures can be linked to increased risk for troopers, as previous deaths possibly could have been prevented.

"When we came into this job in 2016, the previous year we had lost three troopers," says Tilley, "Two of the three were to car accidents which could have been prevented with modern all-wheel drive vehicles or even just more modern vehicles. The vehicles they were driving I don't consider safe I don't think [Sanders] would either."

Kentucky State Police say they have 838 troopers, and they fear they could reach what they call "record lows" of 800 or less.

They aren't the only law enforcement agency seeing a drop in numbers. Sanders explaining that although they are under-staffed, state police continue to be called upon to fill the voids of smaller departments.

The Commissioner says the downward trend started about ten years ago and they are continuing to deal with it.

During the meeting, Commissioner Sanders also discussed their radio system which is tapped out and in need of an overhaul. Both Sanders and Tilley say they expect that to happen because it is in the capital plan.

Meanwhile, they are hopeful they can see their numbers grow and see the $12 million restored.

"These are not wants, these are needs to do our job and do it safely," Commissioner Sanders said.

Tilley is also arguing for criminal justice reform in an effort to free up money currently used to house non-violent criminals.

Both Sanders and Tilley commended Governor Bevin for his work in 2016 to implement a competitive pay scale for state police.

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