- Associated Press - Friday, September 18, 2015

OWENSBORO, Ky. (AP) - As Kentucky’s major party candidates for governor courted votes during a county sheriffs’ meeting on the day of a slain state police officer’s funeral, they promised to give police a raise and improve the security of their retirement benefits.

Republican Matt Bevin and Democrat Jack Conway spoke for about 20 minutes each during the Kentucky Sheriffs’ Association annual meeting in Owensboro. Flags in the parking lot of the Owensboro Convention Center stood at half-staff to honor 31-year-old Kentucky State Police Trooper Cameron Ponder, who was shot and killed Sunday following a high speed chase that started with a traffic stop.

Bevin told the sheriffs that being governor is “less a function of what I want to do and more a function of this being something I’m willing to do.”

“I think in some measure that pales to what each of you does on a daily basis,” Bevin said while leading the conference in a moment of silence for Ponder. “You’re reminded today, perhaps more than most days, of what the cost could be as you bury one of your brothers in arms.”

Kentucky’s law enforcement officers are required to take 40 hours of training each year in addition to their initial training when they become police officers. The state gives them an extra $3,100 as an incentive to complete the training, which is required by law. The money comes from an assessment on insurance policies. But the money the state collects each year is often far more than is needed to pay the incentives. In the past two years, lawmakers have taken $21.5 million from the fund to help balance the state’s budget.

The sheriffs’ group objects to this, saying the money should be used for law enforcement purposes. Conway promised Friday to increase the training incentive to $4,000 from $3,100 and said he would not take money from the fund to balance the budget.

“I’m not going to just put it in my budget. In my budget address I’m going to look members of General Assembly in the eye, point out to them I have raised the incentive pay in the budget, and say, ‘Don’t take it out. I dare you to take it out,’” Conway said to applause from the sheriffs.

Bevin said he too would raise the incentive, but he would not commit to a specific amount. He said Kentucky is broke, citing its billions of dollars in public pension debt, but he said the money in the police incentive fund “doesn’t affect the budget.”

“I can tell you unequivocally we will not sweep funds out of this account for anything other than the benefit of those it was intended,” he said.

Bevin and Conway differed on how to spend the extra money. Conway said he would use it to overhaul the Kentucky State Police crime lab. He said he has a relative who was a victim of crime and has been waiting for more than a year to get a DNA test back.

“We could go to Walgreens right now, buy a DNA kit, swab our mouths send it off and have results back from a private company in five days. And the KSP lab can’t get it back in a year?” Conway said. “It’s grinding the wheels of criminal justice administration to a halt.”

Bevin said he would use the extra money to help shore up the state’s public pension system.

“It’s incumbent upon us to make sure we shore up whatever is needed financially to provide you what has been promised to you,” Bevin said.

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