Politics

Citing “increasing public interest and media attention,” Kentucky State Police on Wednesday announced the creation of a dedicated unit to investigate police shootings across the state.

The five-person Critical Incident Response Team will automatically investigate if a KSP officer is involved in a shooting and will lend its services to local jurisdictions by request.

Alex Payne, deputy commissioner for Kentucky State Police, said creating the unit was the “right thing to do” in response to societal pressures.

“It says nothing good about our society that we actually have the numbers of officer-involved shootings across the commonwealth of Kentucky that we have to come up with a plan like this,” Payne said. “But that’s just the way society is right now. And until hearts and minds change, there’s enough business out there to keep this unit going full-time.”

Since 2015, KSP has investigated 29 shootings involving state troopers, including five so far this year. Last year, the agency investigated 19 shootings involving local law enforcement.

The new unit includes three lieutenants, two sergeants and one detective; KSP says the team would standardize procedures for the investigations.

KSP commissioner Rick Sanders said the team would be able to help small police departments that don’t have manpower or expertise to do shooting investigations.

“A 10- or 20-man police department, they’re limited anyway, Sanders said. “And then if you take three of their officers that were actually involved in the shooting, that’s going to actually shut down maybe a whole shift for that department.”

Police shootings have come under intense scrutiny in recent years after the killing of several unarmed African-American men and apparent targeting of law enforcement across the country.

When asked if the team would help assuage concerns that local law enforcement can’t investigate themselves without bias, Sanders said each case is different.

“If you’ve got a small department, a small community it’s more difficult. But when you have Kentucky State Police going out to east or west I think we’re showing that we can do it fairly, professionally,” Sanders said. “Our job is not to go out and to make one guy right and one guy wrong, it’s to go out and gather the facts.”

Pictured left to right in the featured image: KSP commissioner Rick Sanders, Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary John Tilley, and KSP deputy commissioner Alex Payne

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.