LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The racial justice protests of 2020 heightened the call for police agencies to look more like the communities they serve. Kentucky State Police, the second-largest law enforcement agency in the commonwealth, struggles to meet that call.
Lacking diversity in the statewide police force hovered over Gov. Andy Beshear's event earlier this week as he stood alongside KSP's top brass and proposed a $15,000 pay hike for troopers and telecommunicators. Leaders said it is needed, in part, to recruit better as starting pay for a trooper out of the training academy is about $40,000 a year.
"We need to make changes and continue to grow in order to represent the commonwealth in the appropriate manner,” Sgt. Michael Murriell, recruitment branch manager with KSP, said in a news conference Tuesday. “Currently, approximately 82% of the minority population within the state resides within counties where sheriff departments or city police have starting pay several thousand dollars higher than ours is. It makes it very difficult to compete with those areas.”
Pictures sent out by KSP announcing a round of promotions brought the issue to the forefront. They highlighted 26 officers moving up the ranks in various positions from sergeant to lieutenants and captains to majors. All of the officers promoted were white, and 25 of the 26 are men.
Troopers must be in KSP for six years to put in for a promotion. Applicants are selected based on the score of a written test and a job simulation exercise. A state police spokesperson said 125 troopers met the requirements and voluntarily participated in the 2021 promotion process. Two were people of color and three were female.
The disparity within the agency itself is bigger than most may know. Human resource data obtained from KSP revealed the police unit is nearly an all-white, male force. KSP has just 15 female troopers and 24 troopers of color out of 736 officers assigned throughout the state. That's 5% of the department.
By comparison, the Louisville Metro Police Department, Kentucky’s largest law enforcement unit, has 145 female officers and 187 people of color on a force of 1,039 officers. According to a November 2021 demographics, just less than 20% of LMPD’s sworn officers were people of color.
“I think it’s a problem," Louisville resident Lori Scott said while looking at a picture of the recent promotion class at KSP. “I think if we want to be an diverse state, we have to have diversity in law enforcement.”
Nationally, 67% of police officers identified as Caucasian according to a 2019 report from the U.S. Census Burea.
Trooper Derrick Combs is part of the team working on a fix for KSP. Combs, an African American, has worked for KSP for a decade and is one of four new troopers assigned to KSP's recruitment branch with $500,000 from Beshear's office. The force is not just lacking women and people of color, but like most law enforcement agencies, it lacks officers in general. At Beshear's press event Tuesday, officials said KSP is down 240 troopers from 2016.
“We interact with Kentuckians from high schools to colleges, events and ball games, Combs said. “We've talked to several people from different backgrounds, different locations and areas, and we’ve had good feedback.”
While marketing jobs through digital ads and billboards, the department is seeing signs of hope. A spokesperson said KSP currently has its most diverse class ever: 21 women and minorities out of 128 cadets.
It also shows how far there is to go.
KSP will accept application for its summer 2022 cadet class through January. For more information on applying, click here.
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