FRANKFORT – To get a better understanding of what our law enforcement officers do every day, all one has to do is flip through two comprehensive reports that the Kentucky State Police compile annually on serious crimes and traffic accidents.
Combined, there were nearly 450,000 incidents in these broad categories in 2016, or about 50 each and every hour. Those ranged from fatal crashes and homicides to fender benders and vandalism. That’s a lot of ground to cover for the Commonwealth’s nearly 8,300 sworn officers, the 2,200 civilian employees who work alongside them and the thousands of other first responders who also were involved in many of these cases.
From a policy standpoint, the reports give local and state leaders a lot clearer view of where we are doing well and where more work is needed. It would be much tougher to spot and then respond to trends without this data.
The most troubling aspects of the reports are the significant increases we’ve seen in recent years in arsons, homicides, motor-vehicle thefts and drug and weapon violations.
Highway fatalities are heading in the wrong direction as well, growing by a third just since 2013. That year was a bellwether moment, because we hadn’t had a total that low since the 1940s. On the positive side, we are on track to have fewer traffic fatalities this year than in 2016.
The KSP reports provide a wealth of other data that help illustrate the full impact of crime and traffic accidents. For one thing, property crimes are especially hard to solve – only a fifth were cleared last year – but nearly half of violent crimes ended in an arrest.
Among the property crimes, arsonists caused more than $12 million in damage in 2016, and burglars stole property worth $42.6 million more. We tend to think of burglary as a night-time crime, but, in residential areas, nearly twice as many occur during the day.
More than $100 million in vehicles were stolen last year – but $75 million worth were recovered – and $4.5 million were taken by robbers. Firearms were used in about half of those cases.
There were more than 23,000 DUI arrests last year – which is about 9,500 fewer than in 1995 – and 75,700 drug arrests, nearly half of which were for marijuana, meth, heroin and cocaine. On a positive note, the number of dangerous meth labs continues to decline, with less than 200 found last year. In 2011, there were more than 1,200.
As for traffic, I-75 and the Wendell H. Ford Western Kentucky Parkway led our interstates and parkways in the number of accidents last year, but I-64 and the Bert T. Combs Mountain Parkway were first in the number of traffic fatalities.
Friday was the busiest day and November the busiest month for traffic accidents in 2016, but Monday and Thursday were the top two days and October was the leading month in the number of fatal collisions.
In matters of safety, Kentucky is continuing to see its use of safety belts increase, with nearly nine out of 10 on the highway now buckling up. Helmet use among motorcyclists, however, has stayed much lower, with not-quite two-thirds wearing one.
The costs of all these traffic accidents is understandably high. The National Safety Council estimates that property damage, medical expenses, missed work time and the loss of wages and quality of life reached nearly $19 billion last year.
Overall, the two KSP reports – which can be found online at kentuckystatepolice.org/data.html – give us the type of information we need to better tailor our laws and their enforcement. State and local leaders and our police and sheriff departments have worked closely to bring down these numbers and will continue seeing what more we can do to reduce the damage, stress and grief that hundreds of thousands of crimes and crashes bring.
If you have any thoughts on how we can improve, you can reach me by writing to Room 432F, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort KY 40601; or you can email me at [email protected].
To leave a message for me or for any legislator, call toll-free at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.