FRANKFORT – When I talk to others about what makes Kentucky great, one of the first things I mention is that the commonwealth remains one of the safest places in which to live.
We actually have the sixth-lowest violent-crime rate among the states, which is far better than many other southern states that are at the other end of the rankings. Tennessee’s violent crime rate, for example, is nearly three times larger than ours.
There are several reasons why there is such a disparity, but at the top of that list is a lot of hard work by law enforcement and efforts at the local and state level to crack down on offenders while tackling the underlying issues that caused them to act.
According to the Kentucky State Police’s most recent annual report on crime in the commonwealth, about four-fifths of last year’s crimes were non-violent, and more than half were tied to two broad categories: illegal drug use and stolen property. Both were the driving reasons why we saw the overall number of offenses rise in 2015, and I’m positive there is a direct link, with a lot of the thefts and burglaries undoubtedly occurring to pay for the illegal drugs.
A broader historical look at crime in Kentucky does indicate some sustained successes in other areas. Even with a gain in population, the number of DUI arrests last year – about 23,000 – was much lower than the 30,000 arrested in 1995. Meth labs, meanwhile, have dipped from a high of 1,233 that were discovered in 2011 to 339 last year.
The KSP report includes other statistics as well. For example, in domestic violence- related matters, protective orders went up last year and more people were housed in the state’s domestic-violence shelters, but fewer people needed non-residential help than in 2014.
These numbers will likely increase going forward, however, due to a law that took effect in January to make more people eligible for protective orders. Those include victims of dating violence, stalking and sexual assaults.
While the KSP reports primarily focus on crime, they also emphasize the work that goes into investigating each offense. The 8,400 sworn officers who keep watch over us and the 2,300 civilian employees who work alongside them may make up only two-tenths of one percent of our population, but they are what makes it possible for the rest of us to enjoy the life we have.
This work can carry a steep price. Last year, four officers were killed in the line of duty, and there were reports of more than 900 assaults. A memorial in Richmond dedicated to Kentucky’s fallen law enforcement officers lists more than 500 names dating back to the 1800s.
As a former Attorney General, I saw first-hand just how hard our police officers work, and last year, I authorized a committee to take a closer look at increasing the safety of the law enforcement officers themselves.
As part of our ongoing work to help our law enforcement officers do their jobs, the General Assembly voted this year to increase their training stipend from $3,100 annually to $4,000, and we made several more groups eligible, including Attorney General investigators and park rangers.
A statewide review of Kentucky’s criminal justice system is currently underway and could lead to additional changes during next year’s legislative session. Those potential recommendations will build on the work we have already done over the past five years to make us safer while maximizing each tax dollar spent. It’s worth noting that Kentucky has become a national leader in this type of reform.
As we wait to see what those recommendations may be, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have comments or concerns about this issue or any other involving Kentucky. You can email me at [email protected], or you can leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone at 800-372-7181.
Rep. Greg Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.