FRANKFORT – When the FBI released its latest annual report last week on crime in our country, Kentucky once again got great news when the numbers showed that all but a handful of states were more violent in 2017.
When compared to most of our surrounding and fellow southern states, the figures aren’t even close. Our rate of violent offenses – 225 per 100,000 people – is less than half of Tennessee’s, while Ohio’s, Indiana’s, Alabama’s and Arkansas’ rates are also significantly higher. Only Virginia’s is lower than ours, while the other states with fewer violent crimes on average are in New England and out West.
Our status as a relatively safe state is certainly worth celebrating, but there is still a considerable number of challenges facing us. According to Kentucky State Police’s latest annual report on crime, a serious offense occurs about every two minutes here in the commonwealth.
That’s a lot of work for our 8,300 sworn law enforcement officers, the 2,300 civilian employees who work alongside them and the thousands of other first responders who are also involved in many of these cases.
According to the KSP report, there is both good and bad news when comparing 2017’s numbers with 2016’s. Arson cases went down a third, for example, and robbery, prostitution and non-forcible sex offenses were at least 12 percent lower.
On the other hand, animal cruelty cases rose significantly last year, and weapon violations, stolen-property offenses and counterfeiting had double-digit increases. Drug/narcotic offenses went up by a tenth and comprise about a fourth of all serious crimes committed in Kentucky.
Not surprisingly, it’s a lot tougher to find those responsible for property crimes than those committing a violent one. Police made an arrest in about a fifth of the former category and 43 percent in the latter.
In breaking down the crimes further, there were 459 homicides last year, which was down three percent from 2016’s total, and nearly 42,000 assaults, which was almost identical to the year before.
Among other offenses, arsonists caused nearly $40 million worth of damage to nearly 550 properties last year, and burglars stole almost $40 million. They were about twice as likely to break in during the day than at night for residential cases.
From a financial standpoint, thefts are much more significant, with the combined value of stolen property approaching a quarter of a billion dollars. Money, jewelry and automobiles accounted for most of that.
A broader historical look indicates some sustained progress in tackling serious offenses. Even with a gain in population, the number of DUI arrests last year – a little over 24,000 – was still behind the 30,000 arrested in 1995. Meth labs, meanwhile, have dipped from a high of 1,233 in 2011 to 99 last year.
It is no overstatement to say that fighting crime carries a steep price. Last year, a Louisville Metro Police officer lost his life when his vehicle was struck by a suspect he was pursuing, and a memorial in Richmond dedicated to Kentucky’s fallen law enforcement officers lists more than 500 names dating back to the 1800s. There were nearly 1,700 reports of assault of officers last year, with about half resulting in injury.
As part of our ongoing work to help our law enforcement officers do their jobs, the General Assembly has voted in recent years to increase training stipends for eligible first responders and the amount of money available to the family if an officer – or any state and local government employee – dies while working.
On Wednesday last week, a legislative committee heard from firefighters about cases of post-traumatic stress disorder within their ranks and the need for more mental-health services for them and others who respond to extremely stressful and potentially deadly situations. I believe the General Assembly will take a much closer look at what more we can do during next year’s legislative session.
For now, if you have any questions or comments about these or other issues, please let me know. You can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov, and if you would like to leave a message for me or for any leg