Head of state police upbeat about overcoming staff shortage
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Backed by a big pay raise, Kentucky’s lead statewide police agency sees signs that its ranks will be replenished after a prolonged staffing crunch, the Kentucky State Police commissioner said Tuesday.
Phillip Burnett Jr. spoke optimistically about the personnel upswing as Gov. Andy Beshear presided over a bill-signing ceremony for state police-related legislation.
One measure awards state police troopers a $15,000 pay raise — an amount proposed by the Democratic governor months ago and approved by the Republican-dominated legislature. The bill’s lead sponsor was Republican Rep. Scott Lewis.
“If they are going to protect our families — which they do — we ought to provide for their families as well,” Beshear told a state police gathering.
Burnett called it a “monumental day,” as the agency strives to turn around its “historic low manpower levels.” KSP has lagged behind dozens of law enforcement agencies in Kentucky for starting pay.
The $15,000 raise will boost starting pay for state police’s sworn officers to $55,000 annually. The pay bump is expected to drastically improve KSP’s recruitment and retention efforts.
KSP is staffed with 856 full-time sworn troopers and officers, which is 150 short of the agency’s sworn strength in 2006, the governor’s office said in a news release.
But Burnett pointed to signs of a staffing turnaround.
Since the bills enhancing pay and benefits were filed, numerous ex-state troopers and officers who left for other agencies offering higher pay are now seeking reinstatement with KSP, he said.
Applications to join state police are up, resignations among existing staff are “almost nonexistent” and projected retirements are “very low,” he said.
Last month, KSP’s largest graduating cadet class since 2014 completed work at its basic training academy. The next cadet class — expected to be even bigger — is set to begin training in June.
“We now feel that within five years, the agency will be back or beyond the historic manpower levels” in 2006, Burnett said.
If the personnel shortage continued, KSP would have had to look at modifying its mission, he said.
The state police recruitment efforts were bolstered by a previous $500,000 state appropriation backed by the governor to help the agency develop a statewide marketing initiative.
Amid the staffing shortages, KSP is employing dozens of retired troopers. Their voluntary return has helped “bridge the gap” and maintain services, Burnett said.
Another bill signed by Beshear will extend paid vacation, sick leave and holiday pay, as well as enhanced health insurance contribution payments, for those retirees who return to duty.
Republican Sen. Michael Nemes, the bill’s sponsor, praised state police personnel for having “weathered through the tough times.”
“You’re getting a good pay raise and you were underpaid before,” he said. “But you’re still not paid enough.”
The new state budget also includes funding for KSP to equip troopers with body cameras, another request by the governor. Beshear, a former state attorney general, has said body cameras are crucial for transparency and accountability, while offering protections for law enforcement officers.
“This is something that protects everybody,” Beshear said Tuesday. “It protects our individual state troopers out on the road, oftentimes alone, that get caught up in the ‘he-said, he-said’ that sometimes follows what is a legitimate stop and when you do everything right.”