Subcommittee members receive an update on state police retention, recruitment

Sen. Danny Carroll (R-Benton) speaking about the impact of raises on Kentucky State Police. Photo provided | Legislative Research Commission.

Members of the Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice and Judiciary heard a positive update from the head of Kentucky State Police on Wednesday regarding the impact of raises on the agency’s recruitment and retention efforts.

KSP Commissioner Phillip “P.J.” Burnett Jr. said morale is good among the troopers, and the push to improve matters continues.

When Burnett last spoke to subcommittee members, there were some 700 troopers – the lowest number in more than 30 years. But KSP’s ranks have since grown to 896. Burnett credited many of the improvements to historic pay increases that lawmakers approved during the 2022 legislative session.

“Not only did we receive the $15,000 starting pay, but we also increased on incremental ranks, per rank for our supervisors,” he said. “Some of those are our tenured, seasoned personnel.”

Burnett said the better salaries have been life-changing for some personnel and their families.

“On the retention, it was phenomenal, and I can’t thank you enough for our agency to be able to do that because the people that were eligible to retire, that were looking to retire, are our seasoned personnel,” he said.

The increases have also helped with recruitment. In March, KSP graduated 71 troopers, which is the most the agency has graduated since 2014. The next class of 38 cadets is scheduled to graduate on Nov. 18, and another class is set to start next year on Feb. 26, Burnett told lawmakers.

Rep. Joseph M. Fischer (R-Fort Thomas) and co-chair of the committee, asked Burnett if the pay raises are helping to make KSP more competitive with other agencies.

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“Your department was hemorrhaging,” Fischer said.

Burnett answered that things overall and retention are definitely better, but he could cite instances when municipalities can be nimble about pay, and it may be better than at KSP.

“Starting pay for a trooper is $55,000,” he said. “What I can tell you is that Richmond Police Department is now starting at $56,612, and a lateral, they’re advertising for $60,834. Pikeville gives some of their officers a $5 an hour raise, which would be the equivalent to about $10,000 over a year.”

Sen. Danny Carroll (R-Benton) asked Burnett about retirement and pensions.

Burnett said most of the retired troopers who came back to work are working directly with the public. Some are put in specialized positions, however.

“Again, those are some of our seasoned officers. They’ve retired, and the ones that we bring back, when they retire, they were really quality employees,” he said. “Almost all the time, they are assigned patrol duties.”

Sen. Robin L. Webb (D-Grayson) said KSP has been operated well throughout the years.

“But I think overall, the Kentucky State Police has been the one thing we can all count on. And I appreciate the leadership through the years and the consistency and the continuity, the professionalism both on the ground and here in Frankfort,” she said.

Rep. Jason Nemes (R-Louisville) said he’s pleased with the report and its findings.

“It’s great that our morale is up. I’m talking to a lot of troopers myself, some in my own family. They’re telling me how they think things are going much better. Some of them are staying who were looking at retiring,” he said.

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