Republican House bill would remove Kentucky State Police from Gov. Beshear’s control

Several Republican members of the state House say the Kentucky State Police should be removed from Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s command and instead placed under a nine-member commission.

House Bill 394, filed last week, would establish a nine-member appointed Kentucky State Police Commission to oversee the state police, making it an independent state agency. The commission members — most of them current or former law enforcement — would hire the KSP’s leadership and set standards for the agency.

The KSP is presently a branch of the state Justice and Public Safety Cabinet. That means its top official, the state police commissioner, serves at the pleasure of the justice secretary and the governor.

In 2020, Beshear asked for the resignation of KSP Commissioner Rodney Brewer amid a controversy over police training materials that included quotes from Adolf Hitler endorsing the “regular employment of violence.”

House Judiciary Chairman C. Ed Massey, R-Hebron, said Monday that the Beshear administration exerts too much improper influence over the statewide police force.

Rep. C. Ed Massey
Rep. C. Ed Massey

“The origin of the bill is that we’re trying to take some of the politics out of the state police work,” said Massey, who is sponsoring the measure along with House budget chairman Jason Petrie, R-Elkton, and others.

“Of course, we all remember that they were directed to go write down the license plate numbers of people who were attending church services during the pandemic,” Massey said. “I’ve been told by more than one officer that they’re not even permitted to release a P.R. statement, a public relations statement, unless it’s approved by the governor. It’s very difficult to operate efficiently under that level of direction and control.”

“So the whole idea behind this bill — whether it be Governor Beshear or any governor, for that matter, Republican or Democrat — it would give this commission the authority to hire the (KSP) commissioner and to set the direction and activities and to fulfill the purpose of the Kentucky State Police.”

Massey said he plans to hold a committee hearing on the bill in the next two to three weeks. Retired state police officers can be expected to testify in favor, he said.

Beshear’s office said in a statement on Monday that it opposes the bill, as it has other efforts by the legislature’s Republican majority to reduce the governor’s authority over parts of state government.

“This legislation is yet another attempt by the General Assembly to systematically dismantle the executive branch and, in doing so, weaken public safety and accountability,” said Beshear spokeswoman Scottie Elllis. “It would jeopardize the state’s ability to respond to natural disasters and day-to-day emergencies.”

Under the bill, the nine members of the commission would include:

the state’s attorney general;

the commissioner of the Department of Criminal Justice Training at Eastern Kentucky University;

the director of the Southern Police Institute at the University of Louisville;

the dean of the College of Justice and Safety of Eastern Kentucky University, and;

five members appointed by the governor, including two retired state troopers; one police chief from a list of three names submitted by the Kentucky Association of Chiefs of Police; one sheriff from a list of three names submitted by the Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association; and one commonwealth’s attorney from a list of three names submitted by the Kentucky Commonwealth’s Attorneys Association.

The governor could only remove members of the commission “for cause” under the bill. The commission would have exclusive authority to hire KSP commissioners for contracts up to four years and to set their compensation.

The ACLU of Kentucky has concerns about the proposed KSP commission’s membership, said spokesman Samuel Crankshaw on Monday. Any board overseeing a police agency should include some civilians in the general public who could have contact with the officers, Crankshaw said.

“Law enforcement should be accountable to the people they’re sworn to protect and serve, and they can’t do that as well if their only oversight comes from other people in law enforcement,” Crankshaw said.

In the last few years, there have been controversies involving the KSP and inflammatory training materials; a trooper charged with perjury related to a use-of-force incident; and a lack of scrutiny following trooper-involved shootings.

However, Massey said he isn’t concerned that an independent state police would lack civilian oversight to protect against abuses.

“Given the groups that we have listed who would make up the commission, I think they would have very good authority over the state police,” Massey said. “Also, in the state budget, we hope to give the state police a $15,000 pay raise across the board.”