From immigration and technology to pay and ethics among police officers, the issues across the state vary very little.

Eighteen panelists including police chiefs, sheriffs and others with a vested interest in Kentucky law enforcement came together Wednesday to tackle those issues and many more in an effort to plan and prepare for the next 10 years of law enforcement in the commonwealth.

Department of Criminal Justice Training Commissioner John Bizzack began the discussion by telling both the panel and audience members that the purpose for the discussion was to create a road map of issues that will have to be addressed if Kentucky law enforcement is to move forward together in a gelled and galvanized manner.

It was 10 years ago that a similar panel got together and made 11 recommendations, Bizzack said, which spurred the birth of Police Officer Professional Standards used in the hiring of new officers as well as the restructuring of the Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Professional Fund. All 11 items have been set into motion and achieved in the past 10 years.

“But isn’t it time to start looking again?” Bizzack asked.

While more than 25 issues were addressed during the symposium, they can be broken down into four basic umbrella themes: money, wellness, resources and change.

Money

Pay was at the forefront of the discussion, piggy-backed by the attainment and retention of quality officers.

“I don’t know of a chief in Kentucky that doesn’t have the problem of aquiring good police officers,” said John Kazlauskas, Owensboro Police chief. “We’re looking for college education since POPS and we have to pay them accordingly.”

Mike Crews, director of Criminal Justice Professionalism Program for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said Floridian agencies literally are having recruitment wars with agencies hiring and training officers and other nearby agencies “stealing” them soon thereafter. The original employing agency, then, is losing thousands of dollars it invested in what becomes another vacancy they must fill -- a recurring process that becomes an expensive and time consuming task.

“It costs $15,000 to train a recruit in Kentucky,” Bizzack said. “That doesn’t include the $6,000 to $8,000 the city pays them while they are in training. So the officer goes back to an average job that pays $21,000. There is no financial equity in that. The average salary of a florist is $23,000.”

In 1968, 1978 and 1988, pay was listed among the top reasons officers gave for leaving agencies, Bizzack said. In 2005, it was the sole and dominating reason.

Wellness

The issue of maintaining physical fitness throughout an officer’s career was addressed in many different ways by both panel and audience members. Concerns were raised about the ability of officers who have not maintained their level of fitness to perform necessary functions as part of their daily activities.

Some agencies approach the issue by giving financial incentives to officers who test well throughout their careers. Others make workout facilities available to their employees. Still, some do not address the issue at all after officers make it through the academy.

But physical fitness is not the only long-standing issue of wellness among police, said Gary Cordner, Eastern Kentucky University public safety professor. Knowledge and psychological standards also have long been ignored. Those standards led to discussions about what happens to an officer who is struggling, who falls into substance abuse, illegal activities, or simply unethical activities because of a lack of programs to address the overall wellness of officers.

“Most problems are from outside of work and we tend not to address them,” said John Ward, Alexandria Police chief. “We invest money in officers’ careers and their continuity in the community. But when someone has a problem we want to bring the hammer down.”

Resources

“I would be remiss if I didn’t say there is no more money in the system,” said Sylvia Lovely, executive director and CEO of the Kentucky League of Cities. “When you go before the fiscal court or city government, there is no more money. It’s law enforcement today, the environment tomorrow.”

Governments as a whole are “getting it” that their police departments define their governments, Lovely said. But a paradigm shift to define what an officer is, is needed.

“Citizens expect more,” Lovely said. “When they can see Virginia Tech in their living rooms, people are demanding a lot more of public safety. We have got to look at regionalizing, because we’re not going to find more dollars.”

Aside from city government resources, Bizzack said many of the goals needing to be achieved financially could be achieved if state legislators and officials would “keep their fingers out of the KLEFPF fund.” Ninety-eight million dollars have been taken out of the KLEFPF fund, which is meant solely for the use of law enforcement in Kentucky, and placed into the general fund, Bizzack said. Another $24 million was taken out three years ago.

Now, Kentucky officers receive $3,100 annually as a state incentive from the KLEFPF fund. If the fund had not been drained, that incentive could have reached up to $7,000 annually, Bizzack said.

“Today it is a challenge to find out what that has been spent on,” Bizzack said.

Change

Technology, diversity, immigration and forensics -- the future of law enforcement may still include writing traffic tickets and responding to calls, but it also will incorporate a significant amount of change. Whitley County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Stephens said juries are expecting an increase in forensic evidence, a trend his office calls the “CSI effect.” While technology is evolving alongside training for those capabilities, one major stumbling block remains -- a backlog of evidence to be evaluated at the Kentucky State Police crime lab, the only agency in the state which employs the “CSI-like” technology and know-how.

“It is quite an issue,” said Paducah Police Chief Randy Bratton, “KSP is doing the best they can, but it is a monumental issue.”

But the forensic technology is not the only technology officers are learning to incorporate into their work. Mobile computers in cruisers and the sharing of information between agencies through those computers is becoming necessary, panel members said. Having access at officers’ fingertips to immigration records when illegal immigrants are stopped and criminal histories are becoming just as important as the Spanish agencies need to communicate with an increasingly diverse community.

All in all, Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions Director Patrick Bradley said through the next 10 years, there is going to be a higher demand for more skill sets, more training and more domestic security in addition to the fundamental jobs of law enforcers. And police departments are going to have to work harder to keep the good officers they invest so much in.

“People want to be police officers,” he said. “People come out of our communities wanting to be police officers and then they leave. They’re not all retiring. We need to examine why these people are leaving.”

Kelly Foreman can be reached at kforeman@richmondregister.com or 624-6694.

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