Making their way up the ladder with the Kentucky State Police is no easy task for a trooper, but it’s something that P.J. Burnett has recently accomplished with his new title of Post Commander.
Burnett, of Pineville, who has spent most of his career at Post 10 in Harlan, is now the Post 11 Commander in London.
Joining the state police in 1995, Burnett looks back on how problems have changed.
“When I started my career in 1995 you dealt with marijuana, and the prescription pill epidemic we have now was very minimal,” he said. “It was very rare that you arrested people that were driving under the influence of prescription pills or you had murders, theft and burglaries that were reoccurring to feed their habit. You didn’t have a lot of that. Here we are 17 years later and that seems to be the driving force that the state police and every other agency is working on.
“Cocaine has always been minimal in the Post 10 area. Kentucky has strict laws — I’ll say. We’ve seen some branching out to areas like Florida. It has been considered a pipeline, and because of that, you are starting to see some other things pop up like this synthetic marijuana.”
Burnett said over the last five years, probably 95 percent of everything that he has done as a supervisor, and as lieutenant, and now a captain, revolves around drugs.
He said he plans to set up a burglary task force to deal with these types of problems.
“Most of the burglaries and thefts are just simply people trying to feed their habit,” Burnett said.
He said he’s worked in the London Post district before and the problems are somewhat different.
“Typically, in the Harlan Post area we usually deal with, except for probably the 25 E corridor of Bell and Knox counties, is that we deal more or less with a lot of people we’re very familiar with — as you would say locals. But down here, we are dealing with strictly transporters straight up I-75.”
Burnett is a graduate of Bell County High School and Union College. He was promoted to sergeant in 2001 and to lieutenant in 2005. He had been at Harlan Post since that time.
“There (Harlan) I was an Investigative Lieutenant and Operations Lieutenant until my promotion as Post Commander,” Burnett said.
He has several honors during his career.
In 1997, Post 10 Trooper of the Year; in 2002, received Commissioner’s Accommodation on work he did on the Sam Catron case, the sheriff of Pulaski County, when he was murdered; in 2008, he received a Kentucky State Police Citation of Bravery; and in 1997 and 1998, he received the Governor’s Award for the most DUI arrests for the post.
He also began his vehicle collision reconstruction career in 1999.
“I see what a big asset reconstructing these wrecks are,” Burnett said. “I think they are typically classified as wrecks, but a lot these are homicides that are occurring on the road. It goes back to what I said before. People that are abusing prescription medication or even alcohol, and when they are involved in these collisions and they kill someone, whether it be an innocent person in another vehicle or just the passenger or anybody else — we work those as murders and homicides.”
Burnett said he hopes to one day make his way back to Post 10.
“As commander, you serve where the command staff would like to put you,” Burnett said. “The Harlan Post, that’s my home post and will always be my home post. I enjoy working in London and it’s close to where I live now, but I hope to be back to the Harlan Post one day. “
When Burnett was asked what advice he could give people wanting to begin a career in the state police, he offered the following.
“The main thing is that anybody in law enforcement, they really need to enjoy what they do,” he said. “Probably the most pleasant time in my career was when I was a road trooper in Bell, Harlan and Knox counties. I’m huge on troopers being out in the community being seen. Small things like ball games. Things like that where a lot of people see them, like stopping in stores. I like people to know who those troopers are in the community where they feel like they can contact them and give them information. I felt like I was always pretty successful when I worked the road because I treated everyone like I wanted someone to treat me. And it’s always worked out real good and people felt comfortable talking to me and giving me information.”
Burnett and his wife Linda have been married for 13 years and have two sons, Cameron and Blake. They are 5 and 9. He is also a coach for the Bell County Junior Football league, the Bell County Little League, and he coaches basketball at Page Elementary School.
KSP Lt. Jason Adams will resume Burnett’s position in Harlan as Operations Lieutenant under the command of Post 10 Capt. Leslie Smith.
Other local promotions include:
* KSP Sgt. James Catron was promoted to lieutenant and transferred from Post 13 in Hazard to Post 10 in Harlan. A resident of Emmalena and a native of Hazard, Catron is a 10-year KSP veteran.
* Trooper Alfred Bunch was promoted to sergeant and will remain assigned to Post 10 in Harlan. A resident of Corbin and a native of Williamsburg, Bunch is a nine-year KSP veteran.
* KSP Capt. Merrell J. Harrison was promoted to major and transferred from command of Post 14 in Ashland to command of the East Troop at KSP headquarters in Frankfort. A resident of Mount Sterling and native of Harlan, Harrison is a 21-year KSP veteran.
* CVE Officer Kenny Johnson was promoted to sergeant and transferred from Region 6 in Pikeville to Region 3 in Georgetown. A resident of Frankfort and a native of Harlan, Johnson is a seven-year CVE veteran.