LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Like many law enforcement agencies, the thin blue line continues to shrink at the Lexington Police Department. Officers are leaving at an alarming rate, causing staff shortages according to Sgt. Jeremy Russell, President of the Fraternal Order of Police Bluegrass Lodge 4.
"I personally predict we'll be 100 below by July 1," said Russell.
That's 15% shy of full capacity which is 633 officers. Russell says it's mainly experienced officers who have left or gave their notice. Most retired while others resigned. Russell says a good portion of them took jobs at other police departments.
Until 2020, the 5-year average of Lexington police officers leaving the force was 48. 64 left last year.
It's a force stretched thin. "We have a lot of tired officers out there," said Russell who adds the city is paying for it.
"Right now honestly you could work two shifts per day 7 days a week if you wanted it, I don't advise it," said Russell.
According to data we obtained from the police department through an open records request, the money spent on overtime to meet patrol minimum is nearly double what it was last fiscal year: $95,801.39 from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, compared to $181,530.40 this fiscal year.
The overtime adds up. According to the Fraternal Order of Police, the city paid $82,000 in overtime over the past two weeks to cover patrol duties. That's officers working longer shifts on special assignments as well as beat staffing. The money spent on overtime just to fill vacant or additional shifts has nearly doubled, jumping from $308,000 last fiscal year to more than $500,000 this fiscal year. That's a 60% increase.
"Typically we have money left over in the overtime budget, so this year we've gone beyond what was budgeted and there's no telling how far we'll exceed it," said Russell.
Lexington's Commissioner of Public Safety Ken Armstrong says the city budgeted $1,600,000 for total overtime this fiscal year. Armstrong says to date, 89% of the budget has been spent. With a little over a month to go through June 30, he expects to stay within the budget.
Money aside, LEX 18 looked at the average time it takes officers to respond to all calls, including 911 calls. Lexington police data given to us by Russell shows from April 2020 through May 23, 2021, the average dispatch to arrival time was 6:05. The past months of April and May response times slightly higher than from a year ago.
Russell says 911 calls and other serious ones are still prioritized, but your run-of-the-mill non-injury traffic accident could leave you waiting for police longer. "If you call for a collision report a theft report you could potentially be waiting for hours before an officer is waiting to respond because we're handling the higher priority calls before the lower priority calls."
Lexington's Commissioner of Public Safety Ken Armstrong says the city is dedicated to hiring the number of officers needed and points out there is a current recruit class of 35 that will be on the streets in January.
Russell says of the last class of recruits only 20 of the original 45 hit the streets as sworn officers.