A Kentucky State Police vehicle

A Kentucky State Police vehicle. (WDRB photo) 

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A connected system of cruiser and body-worn cameras for Kentucky State Police will be part of the agency’s budget request during the upcoming legislative session, Gov. Andy Beshear said Tuesday.

Beshear plans to ask for $12.2 million for the devices, which would equip 650 troopers and officers and other specialized details. The state police have never used body cameras and only recently have added some in-car cameras, although those represent a fraction of the fleet.

“This would be the first time in the commonwealth’s history that funding for this much-needed technology is being allocated,” Beshear said. 

The cameras would take synchronized video from different vantage points and be available to the majority of the department’s sworn members who interact with the public. Beshear said the proposal is meant to provide transparency and accountability while also protecting officers from false accusations.

Kerry Harvey, Beshear’s secretary of the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet, called the recording devices "a win for the public and it's also a win for our troopers.”

Most of the state police agencies in neighboring states equip troopers with body cameras, according to a WDRB News survey conducted earlier this year. Only Virginia and Missouri don’t use the cameras or have plans to add them. Indiana State Police began outfitting its state troopers this year.

Kentucky’s lack of cameras has been highlighted in recent years in several cases that relied on private footage, witnesses or other recordings to contradict troopers’ official accounts of their encounters.

Speaking in Frankfort alongside law enforcement officials, the governor also outlined a broader spending proposal that includes a boost in starting pay for sworn officers, from roughly $40,000 to $55,000. The $15,000 increase also would apply to current staff.

The budget request would increase the beginning salaries of telecommunicators, who answer phone calls, from $24,000 a year to $32,000. And it would add $600 increase to the stipend that all Kentucky law enforcement members receive upon completing the mandated 40 hours of in-service training.

Beshear and state police officials said these steps are needed at a time when troopers are leaving the force in alarming numbers.

Col. Phillip Burnett Jr., the state police commissioner, said his agency has 736 sworn troopers and 55 sworn commercial vehicle enforcement officers. By comparison, he added, there were more than 1,000 troopers in 2016 and 168 vehicle officers in 2008.

“These are historic low numbers and, in fact, the lowest that we can track since 1988,” Burnett said.

State police Det. Courtney Milam, who works in Bowling Green, said the agency is averaging a loss of more than eight troopers per month from retirements and resignations, "and that is unsustainable for the future of our agency."

State police are currently accepting applications for its next recruiting class at joinksp.com

Beshear, a Democrat, rolled out his budget proposal just under two months before the Republican-controlled General Assembly convenes in January for a 60-day session that includes the state’s two-year budget.

He told reporters that the state's general fund is well positioned for the appropriation. 

The legislature ultimately will decide what to include in the spending plan it passes and sends to the governor.

Beshear said "many Republican legislators have been talking to me about this and other public safety issues and I believe there is more than an appetite to address this."

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