- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 15, 2017

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s lead law enforcement agency said Wednesday it has formed a new unit to investigate officer-involved shootings in the state, calling it an unfortunate reflection on society.

The six-member team within Kentucky State Police will automatically investigate any shooting involving a state police officer, and will review other officer-related shootings on a case-by-case basis when requested by affected law enforcement agencies, KSP’s top leaders said.

“This is the right thing to do,” KSP Commissioner Rick Sanders told reporters. “It’s unfortunate, but in our climate today we’re involved in shootings. We have to respond to violence and it’s unfortunate. We want to make sure we put our best foot forward.”

Sanders referred to the unit’s members as “the best in the business.”

Dubbed the Critical Incident Response Team, the new Frankfort-based unit consists of three lieutenants, two sergeants and one detective within state police, officials said. They bring with them almost 100 years combined of law enforcement experience.

KSP’s deputy commissioner, Alex Payne, said that “until hearts and minds change,” there will be “enough business out there to keep this unit going full time.”

Payne noted the toll such shootings take on those involved, their families and communities.

“We want those people to have the confidence in us that we have our best people doing those investigations,” he said.

Since 2015, KSP said it has investigated 29 of its officers who were involved in shooting incidents. In 2016, state police investigated 19 shootings involving officers from other police agencies in Kentucky. Since its formation in January, the new unit has investigated five incidents.

Smaller police agencies in particular lack the manpower and expertise to do their own investigations when their officers are involved in shootings.

State Justice and Public Safety Secretary John Tilley said the goal with the new KSP unit is to promote transparency and accountability when responding to police-related shootings.

The unit will gather evidence to present to the local commonwealth’s attorney, who decides whether to take the case to the grand jury.

In the past, when a state police officer was involved in a shooting, a lieutenant from an adjoining KSP post would lead the investigation, assisted by a lieutenant from the affected post, said state police Lt. Michael Webb. State police detectives also assisted.

The new unit will be assisted by a range of specialists, including crime scene technicians from the agency’s forensic laboratories and personnel who collect and examine digital evidence.

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