Cameron calls for $5,000 bonuses for Kentucky police, allowing murder charges in fatal overdoses

Republican’s 12-point public safety plan conflicts with policy recommendations from the right and left, says ACLU advocate

by McKenna Horsley, Kentucky Lantern

LOUISVILLE — Republican Daniel Cameron says that as governor he would oppose subpoena powers for civilian police review boards and support giving Kentucky law enforcement officers a $5,000 bonus to improve recruitment and retention.

The proposals are part of a 12-point public safety plan that Cameron unveiled Tuesday and that focuses largely on Louisville. 

Cameron’s other ideas include the legislature authorizing Kentucky State Police to conduct wiretaps and increasing penalties for drug traffickers, such as allowing murder charges against drug dealers when someone dies from a substance they distributed. 

“Public safety is the first responsibility of the government,” said Cameron, who is currently Kentucky’s attorney general. “We don’t have streets that are safe. Our economy and our schools suffer. Every Kentuckian has the right to live and move freely around their community without fear.” 

Cameron estimated the state has more than 12,000 officers, meaning that about $65 million would be needed to provide his proposed bonuses. He said funding could potentially come from the state’s “rainy day fund.”

Kentucky finished the 2023 fiscal year with a revenue surplus estimated at $1.4 billion, the third year in a row the surplus has topped $1 billion, while bringing in a record $15.1 billion in general fund tax revenue.

The Republican nominee for governor spoke about his plan at news conferences in Louisville and Lexington Tuesday. In Louisville, he was joined by law enforcement officials, including former KSP Commissioner Mark Miller, St. Matthews Chief of Police Barry Wilkerson and Oldham County Sheriff Tim Wakefield. 

Without subpoena power, civilian police review boards are “meaningless symbolic entities.

— Ed Monahan, former Kentucky public advocate

Cameron is seeking to unseat Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, who recently touted the endorsements of 35 law enforcement officials. During the primary election, Cameron said he was endorsed by more than 100 law enforcement officials

Alex Floyd, the communications director for Beshear’s campaign, said in a statement that Cameron “has refused to take any responsibility for crime as attorney general and helped cover for Matt Bevin’s indefensible pardons for murderers and a child rapist.” Democrats have previously attempted to link Cameron to former Gov. Matt Bevin’s controversial pardons. 

“Unlike Cameron’s record of covering for criminals and lying about grand jury proceedings, Andy Beshear actually delivered pay raises for law enforcement — leading to the largest Kentucky State Police recruiting class in years,” Floyd said. 

Cameron’s policies also include establishing a Kentucky State Police post in Louisville and reforming the Kentucky Parole Board by increasing the vote threshold for release and giving the governor the power to remove members at-will. 

He is also calling for passing a statewide wiretapping law that mirrors federal regulations and includes judicial review procedures; using overdose mapping tools to rapidly increase resources to drug hot spots; mandating DNA collection for serious felonies, such as rape, murder or burglary, and ensuring protections to automatically purge DNA if a case is acquitted or dismissed with prejudice; and supporting Group Violence Intervention efforts. 

A KSP post in Louisville?

Cameron had previously proposed a KSP post be created in Louisville to aid local law enforcement when dealing with violent crimes. Beshear has said the idea “shows a lack of confidence” in the Louisville Metro Police Department. 

 Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg briefs media about a mass shooting at the Old National Bank, April 10, 2023, Louisville. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

After a gunman killed five people in downtown Louisville at the Old National Bank earlier this year, Mayor Craig Greenberg called on Kentucky’s General Assembly to allow local governments to make policy decisions regarding gun violence in their communities. On Tuesday, Cameron reiterated that he does not support gun control when asked about Greenburg’s plea. 

“What I have offered is if we are serious about addressing the challenge of violent crime in this county and in this city, then we need to put a Kentucky State Police post here in our largest county,” Cameron said.

According to the national nonprofit tracker Gun Violence Archive, Kentucky has had 443 shootings in 2023 as of Tuesday, with 247 in Louisville. Lexington has had 51 shootings, the second most in that time frame. 

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Justice reported widespread civil rights abuses by Louisville police and filed charges against four officers for their roles in obtaining the search warrant that led to the fatal shooting of Breonna Taylor in 2020. Cameron, the special prosecutor who had investigated Taylor’s shooting, had recommended charges only against an officer who fired into Taylor’s neighbor’s apartment, sparking criticism from Taylor’s family and others. 

Both Lexington and Louisville have boards that include civilian members that can review complaints against local police. In 2021, a bill was proposed in the General Assembly to give civilian review boards subpoena power, but it failed.

“If an independent organization wants to be engaged constructively in conversations with our law enforcement community, I wholeheartedly support that,” Cameron said. “Where I draw the line is that subpoena power that can be used to harass and denigrate our law enforcement community.”

Asked to provide an example of a civilian review board harassing law enforcement officers, Cameron did not cite a specific situation. Since subpoenas can be issued through the judicial process, he said a third party does not need that power. 

Civilian review boards are “a very important way to ensure fairness in communities, said Ed Monahan, who led the state’s public defenders as Kentucky public advocate from 2008 to 2017. But denying the boards subpoena power would reduce them to “meaningless symbolic entities,” Monahan told the Lantern.

“It’s interesting because an attorney general, prosecutor, judges, their primary responsibility is to ensure people are accountable for their behavior,” Monahan said. “And while all of us are so grateful to law enforcement personnel who give up so much for the community, there are some whose behavior is inappropriate, and they should be held accountable through a fair process that is comprehensive, and that involves having all the evidence.”

What could Cameron’s policies mean for Kentucky? 

Kate Miller, the advocacy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, told the Lantern that most of Cameron’s public safety policies are “pretty inconsistent with what policy experts from the right and the left have been recommending.” 

When it comes to increasing penalties for drug traffickers, Miller said Kentucky already has some of the highest rates of incarceration and drug overdoses in the nation. She said a majority of people selling drugs are often doing so because of addiction and “we’re not going to incarcerate ourselves out of addiction.”  Opponents of a similar law in Texas made the same point. 

Monahan said “much of the behavior that results in people being involved in the criminal legal system in Kentucky is related to drug use or mental illness.” A strong plan to address those issues would “provide for ways to assist people who have substance abuse and mental health issues (and) deal with all of the things associated with those kinds of problems and addictions.” 

“And I don’t see that in this plan, other than he does have … ‘overdose mapping to surge resources to drug hotspots,’” Monahan said, adding that support for social services in those communities would also be valuable. 

Cameron is responsible for planning and overseeing distribution of hundreds of millions of dollars in opioid settlements from the drug industry after the legislature made the Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission part of the AG’s office. Earlier this year Cameron held roundtables around the state to brainstorm strategies for countering the epidemic of opioid use disorder and the rise in fentanyl overdose deaths.

Monahan said he was unaware of widespread complaints about the Kentucky Parole Board. He said Cameron’s call to give the governor the power to remove board members and increase vote threshold for release would be “imprudent.” The board is “very cautious about their decisions” when considering a release.

“We would benefit from reform of the Parole Board, but it would be for the Parole Board to have better methods of assessing future risk on the merits rather than the current methods that they’re using,” Monahan said.

On mandatory DNA collection, Miller said Cameron’s inclusion of provisions to purge collected personal data in some cases are appreciated, but other threats still remain, such as security breaches or mishandling of information. It’s more commonplace for the government to have personal data on citizens, so “we’re very, very, very wary of any push to increase the use of DNA collection” including those innocent, she added. 

“I do think that a number of these ideas would be popular,” Miller said of Cameron’s policies. “And I actually do think that there are some that would really face a number of obstacles, just based on the substance of the policy and not (the) politics side of it. ”

Monahan agreed that Cameron’s positions would see support in the legislature, noting a number of recently passed laws establish more crimes and harsher penalties.  

At this point, it’s hard to compare Cameron and Beshear on public safety, Miller said. Both have supported policies the ACLU agrees and disagrees with.

“It’s becoming less and less partisan to make recommendations related to justice reform that are really aimed at making us safer, and that don’t exclusively rely on incarcerating every individual for everything they’ve ever done wrong in their entire lives. … On the whole, I think we’re still trending in that direction,” Miller said.

Cameron told reporters that he has met with leaders of Kentucky’s Republican supermajority in both the House and Senate regarding the plan and they “agree that reducing crime is something that we will be able to work on together.” 

Wakefield, the Oldham County sheriff, gave Cameron high marks. “’I’ll have to say in my 34-year career, this is the first time I’ve seen someone put together a comprehensive plan, from recruitment to actual penalty phases, to take care of the problems that are facing the commonwealth today.” 

 Oldham County Sheriff Tim Wakefield says Daniel Cameron’s public safety plan is “comprehensive.” (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

Top photo: Republican Daniel Cameron talks about his public safety plan in Louisville Tuesday. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)