- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The father of a Kentucky State trooper killed last week when a bullet pierced his patrol car has urged lawmakers to upgrade the state’s fleet with bullet-resistant materials.

Cameron Ponder was shot and killed while driving his patrol car last week following a high-speed chase in western Kentucky. Ponder had stopped a driver with a suspended license and was trying to arrange a hotel room for him when the driver took off. Ponder chased after him at speeds of up to 115 miles per hour before the driver, Joseph Johnson-Shanks, stopped abruptly and fired at Ponder’s patrol car.

Johnson-Shanks was later shot and killed by police after officials said he pointed a gun at another state trooper and ignored orders to lower the weapon. Kentucky State Police Commissioner Rodney Brewer said the bullet that killed Ponder hit the side panel of his bulletproof vest, calling it a “one in 10,000 shot.”

“A bulletproof windshield would have saved my son’s life,” Ponder told reporters during a news conference at the state Capitol Annex.

Materials for protecting police cars and other security vehicles range from impenetrable glass to a bullet-resistant coating to cover windows that can slow down or deflect a bullet. State officials said Tuesday that they likely could not afford to make 600 Kentucky State Police patrol cars bulletproof. But they most likely could afford to coat the windows with bullet-resistant materials.

Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo has asked Brewer to study the issue and make some recommendations to lawmakers before the start of the legislative session in January. Stumbo said coating from on manufacturer that would protect against 9 mm ammunition - the kind of bullet that killed Ponder - would cost about $5,000 per car. With 600 state patrol cars, that could cost as much as $3 million.

“If we can move forward and protect our officers in the field in the future then the life that was given in the line of duty would not have been done so in vain,” said Stumbo, adding he would like to find a way to offer the materials to other local law enforcement agencies as well.

Dennis Kenney, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said most law enforcement agencies do not use bullet-resistant materials such as window coatings because it is expensive and because they “apparently don’t work too well for bullets and bombs.”

He said even bulletproof glass would leave the rest of the car vulnerable because “most bullets today can easily penetrate a car door.”

“So unless they are going to armor up their cars - which would suggest an entirely different set of problems and concerns - this is a problem they are likely to have to live with,” he said.

Brewer, the Kentucky State Police commissioner, cautioned against making a quick judgment based on Ponder’s death. He said a preliminary review of the incident showed Ponder did not do anything contrary to his training, adding that some dangerous scenarios are impossible to predict. Brewer said he did not know if a bullet-resistant coating on Ponder’s windshield would have saved him.

“Could we make every cruiser on the road impenetrable? Probably, but obviously the costs associated with that are not very realistic, even during these tragic times,” he said. “What we’re going to focus on are these types of laminates that can be applied to our existing cars.”

Even bullet-resistant windows have downsides, he said, because they could prevent an officer from returning fire from inside a patrol car. Brewer said state troopers have been forced to shoot through their windshields twice in recent years.

Joe Ponder said he plans to lobby legislators during the upcoming session and “follow this road as far as it will lead.”

“My son is behind me all the way,” he said.

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