Legislature must adequately fund state police

The Kentucky General Assembly and previous state administrations have failed miserably in their obligation to protect citizens of this great commonwealth. For years, Kentucky State Police have been asked to do more with less, and they have. But now they can’t, and it’s up to the legislature and the current administration to fix this problem.

The KSP crime labs are tasked with analyzing evidence from every law enforcement agency in the state. KSP is likely to be called upon by police departments and sheriff’s offices throughout the state to investigate officer-involved shootings.

KSP troopers respond to slayings and countless other felonies across Kentucky through the agency’s 16 post locations. In addition, KSP runs two drug enforcement special investigation units, an electronics crimes branch whose investigators pursue online child predators, the driver’s testing branch and commercial vehicle enforcement. KSP dispatch provides emergency radio services not only for state police but also for several counties.

This is an agency that is constantly expected to give, but over the last several years its own needs have been neglected by a lack of proper funding from lawmakers who ultimately hold the power of the purse.

Statewide, KSP 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. However, if the state police graduated a class of 200 cadets this week, KSP doesn’t have enough money in the budget to pay them.

Troopers, who work from their cars, are driving high-mileage vehicles, some with as many as 200,000 miles. These cars, driven at high speeds, must be able to stop quickly and maneuver winding country roads in all kinds of weather and all types of road conditions. Citizens calling for help expect troopers to respond. That’s hard for state police to do without reliable transportation.

When they do get to a call, being able to communicate is vital. However, KSP’s radio system is dying. It’s so old the manufacturer doesn’t have parts to make repairs.

There is also a chance that when a trooper needs firepower, he or she could be outgunned. KSP’s Vietnam-era M16s have been recalled by the Department of Defense, which could leave many in the field without a long gun. The agency was able to scrape together enough money to buy 200 long guns, but that’s not even enough for every current road trooper to have one in his or her cruiser. A trooper with a handgun pitted against a shooter with an AR-15 is at a terrible disadvantage.

Kentucky lawmakers can and should do better than this. It’s time to make public safety a first priority in Kentucky, and that needs to start with properly funding Kentucky State Police.

Daily News of Bowling Green