LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) — Is the Lexington police force 131 officers short or 116? That’s at the root of the spat between Bluegrass Fraternal Order of Police President Jeremy Russell and Lexington city officials. Russell wrote in a Facebook post:
“Lexington IS 131 SWORN OFFICERS SHORT. With an authorized strength of 639, missing 131 means we are over 20% understaffed. Think 131 short is not bad; just know that by the end of the year, there will be 134 officers that can retire whenever they want.”
In addition, Russell said Lexington’s current officers are overworked and underappreciated and pointed out that only seven more officers actively work patrol than two decades ago, which he said is not enough to keep up with the city’s growth. FOX 56 wanted to ask the FOP about Russell’s statement, but no one returned our calls.
In a statement, Mayor Linda Gorton maintained that there are 116 open positions and that the discrepancy of 15 counts the number of recruits scheduled to graduate in December. Russell said those 15 should not be counted and wrote in his original post, “That is as absurd as calling everyone in medical school a doctor or everyone in law school an attorney.”
Gorton’s statement reads in full:
“Public safety is my top priority. I have demonstrated my support again and again through significant salary improvements and investments in new equipment and technology for our first responders. Since I became mayor in 2019, we have raised the starting pay for police officers by more than 42% and increased pay for existing officers by almost 30%.
Additional millions of dollars have been spent to meet police pension costs. I have increased funding for recruiting. I have also won support for changes in state law that allow retired officers to continue serving on our police force, bringing back years of experience. So far, nine officers have been hired back in this program. I have also invested in new technology to better support officers in their work.
Over the past few years, I have worked closely with Chief Weathers, the police department’s staff, the Council, and the Union on this matter. The response of Lexington’s police union, which is operating under a contract that they agreed to and whose membership was just provided another significant pay increase within the last year, is disappointing.
It has become clear that money alone is not going to resolve this issue. The fact is, police organizations all over the country are facing challenges when it comes to staffing. While our police department may not be at authorized strength, we are ensuring areas such as patrol are appropriately staffed to answer calls throughout the city
Our authorized strength is 639. As of today (9-18), there are 116 open positions. There are 15 recruits in the academy who are scheduled to graduate in December. Another recruit class will begin next month, with 37 recruits expected. Another class is planned for next March.”Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton
A statement from the Lexington Police Department added that in addition to the 15 recruits in the academy, another class is starting in October with 37 recruits. The department has also hired nine officers through a new program to bring back retirees.
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Ryan Straw, a spokesperson for the Kentucky State FOP, said, “The FOP encourages our local lodges to be vocal about the problems that they’re having and to bring light to the issues with elected officials not paying attention to the needs of our officers. And we challenge, as elected officials, including the mayor in Lexington, to figure out better ways to get staff and make working at the police department more attractive there in Lexington.”