Kentucky State Police cadets are sworn in

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) -- State Police Commissioner Rick Sanders has called the shortage of troopers in Kentucky "dangerous," but he said the state is taking steps to try and put more officers on the highways.

The 97th cadet class of the Kentucky State Police joined the ranks in a graduation ceremony Friday morning.

Tyler Shaw of Louisville was among the new troopers.

“Kentucky State Police is the most elite, the best training, and that's what I wanted to become a part of,” Shaw said.

But Shaw's 35-member class will not even replace the more than 50 troopers who retired last year.

Kentucky's thin grey line is getting thinner.

“Well, it's serious,” Sanders said. “With the graduation today, that brings us up to 834 troopers.”

But Sanders said more than 1,100 troopers are needed to make sure the state is well-covered. He said part of the problem is recruiting. Fewer young people want careers in law enforcement.

“Police officers today are becoming villains, and there's a lot of negative stories out there,” Sanders said. “But professional law enforcement is here. It’s more professional than when I started years ago.”

There are other issues as well, including low pay and bad equipment.

“You could go to any trooper’s trunk and pull out a rifle, and it was likely from the Vietnam War,” Kentucky Justice Secretary John Tilley said. “That's unacceptable. We've changed that.”

State lawmakers have increased funding, and KSP is now rolling out more modern weapons and new cruisers. Some cars in the aging fleet had as many as 200,000 miles on them. Sanders said this class is the first that will not receive the old Crown Victoria model of police cruisers.

“We're getting a lot more new cars out there,” Sanders said.

There is also a new pay schedule that rewards longevity. Sanders said a new trooper’s salary starts at around $40,000 but can rise over time to more than $60,000 with 30 years of experience.

“Those senior troopers mean a lot to us to help educate these younger troopers,” Sanders said. “It's helping us keep some of those senior troopers around.”

Though Sanders said training standards have not changed, a college degree is no longer required for new recruits.

“We're taking the kids off the tractors and out of the coal mines and making them troopers and giving them the education,” Sanders said.

Sanders said recruits with a high school diploma will earn an associates’ degree by the time they complete training.

State officials said rebuilding the KSP ranks will take more time and money. Shaw said he is glad to play a small part. 

“I'm another body on the street trying to help people stay safe,” he said.

The next class beginning this summer will start with 90 cadets, which Sanders said will help.

But long term, Gov. Matt Bevin and others have warned, the looming pension crisis could threaten future state budgets, including KSP funding.

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I cover a range of stories for WDRB, but really enjoy tracking what's going on at our State Capitol. I grew up on military bases all over the world, but am a Kentuckian at heart. I'm an EKU alum, and have lived in Louisville for 30 years.