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Body Cameras Not Likely For Kentucky State Police

Police departments across Kentucky began outfitting officers with body cameras last year, but don't expect state troopers to join their ranks anytime soon.

Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer said he supports the idea of equipping the agency's 1,000 troopers with the cameras, but the cost to do so is too steep.

The state's most recent budget resulted in a 2.5 percent cut for state police, state budget documents show. With those constraints, body cameras are not a top priority for state police, Brewer said.

"My concern has to be providing the best tools for our troopers to respond in a safe manner — and that's cars and that's gasoline," he told WFPL News after a recent appearance in Louisville.

State police troopers drive nearly 30 million miles each year, Brewer said.

Body cameras can cost a police agency millions annually. Brewer said the highest cost is related to storing data.

Louisville Metro Police, which just last year adopted body cameras, is projected to spend about $3 million on the program. Nearly all of  the funding is directed toward data storage.

State police do not have an estimate of how much body cameras would cost.

State Sen. Danny Carroll, a Republican from Paducah, praised Brewer for showing interest in adopting body cameras. But he said lawmakers should focus this legislative session on increasing trooper pay.

"Our troopers, in comparison to a lot of states, their pay rates are fairly low," he said.

Carroll chairs the Senate budget review subcommittee on general government, finance and public protection. He is also a retired Paducah Police officer.

The state is strapped for funds, particularly because of the underfunded public pensions. So raising pay for troopers, as well as prison guards and social workers, will be tough, Carroll said.

"But I do feel like that needs to take precedent over any possible funding for the body cameras at this point," he said.

State Rep. Denny Butler, a Republican from Louisville, said he doesn't know where the state would find money for state police body cameras. The retired Louisville Metro Police officer said he supports cameras, but adopting them for the state police force is "a cost factor."

Butler said any new funds allocated to the state police should be directed toward ensuring their current stock of equipment is and remains in safe, working order, he said.

"I would hate to see a trooper get hurt because of a faulty vehicle with a lot of miles on it, because we couldn't afford to make the investment on new cars," he said.

Some local activists aren't buying the claim that state police must go without body cameras due to a lack of funding.

Chaz Briscoe, with Louisville's chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement, said Brewer's funding concerns "mask a narrative of a commissioner attempting to save face."

Briscoe said if state police want body cameras, they should lobby the legislature for more funding or pledge to cut costs in other areas to free up funds. Briscoe also said Brewer should provide the public with an agenda for how he'll move forward with addressing the funding situation in the future.

"Do not give us 'this is the best you can do,'" Briscoe said. "It is lazy, it's tired, and we deserve more."

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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