LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Republican gubernatorial nominee Daniel Cameron proposed awarding recruitment and retention bonuses to bolster police forces, part of a sweeping public safety plan unveiled Tuesday that calls for tougher penalties against drug traffickers found responsible for causing deaths in Kentucky.
In his first major policy rollout of the general election campaign, Cameron declared that his plan would have a "direct impact on the safety of our citizens and the morale of our law enforcement community.”
Cameron, the state's attorney general, also proposed requiring pursuit of the death penalty against anyone convicted of murdering a police officer. He pledged to work with the state's GOP-dominated legislature to pass a wiretapping law to support investigations of drug-cartel and gang-related crime. And he vowed to push for a standalone carjacking law to combat a crime that he said has become more prevalent in Kentucky's largest cities.
Cameron is challenging Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in one of the nation’s most closely watched campaigns in 2023. Beshear preceded Cameron as Kentucky's attorney general, and the bitter rivals are trying to one-up the other in touting their crime-fighting and police-friendly records.
While unveiling his plan, Cameron referred to public safety as the "first responsibility of the government.” An overarching goal is to make Kentucky “the best place in America to be a police officer,” he said.
Cameron's stance on civilian oversight of law enforcement agencies drew the most scrutiny at his news conference Tuesday. Cameron said civilian review boards should be blocked from obtaining subpoena power. He said he supports independent groups striving “to be engaged constructively in conversations” with law enforcement, but said he draws the line when it comes to giving them subpoena power.
“We already have a judicial system that has the ability to subpoena law enforcement," Cameron said.
Public safety has risen to prominence in Kentucky's gubernatorial campaign.
At an event last month, Beshear touted his crime-fighting record, noting he pushed for large pay raises for state troopers, as well as increased training for police officers. The governor's ability to deliver on those raises led to the largest Kentucky State Police recruiting class in years, his campaign said Tuesday.
During his term as attorney general, Beshear said, he prosecuted child sex offenders, cleared a rape kit backlog and combated senior scams. The governor says he will seek additional funding for police training and body armor to protect law officers if he wins another term in November.
Cameron responded Tuesday with his own detailed plan to combat crime and support law enforcement. He was flanked by law officers in uniform, as Beshear was last month.
If elected, the Republican challenger said Tuesday that the first budget he presents to lawmakers would include work to develop $5,000 recruitment and retention bonuses for law enforcement. It's a recognition of the difficulty that Kentucky law enforcement agencies face in attracting new officers and keeping them on the force, he said. Cameron raised the prospect of dipping into the state’s massive budget reserves to pay for the bonuses.
Meanwhile, Cameron said Kentucky should follow the lead of other states in allowing murder charges to be filed against drug dealers who push deadly substances. That would give law enforcement and prosecutors a stronger hand in combating the influx of fentanyl and other deadly drugs, he said.
"We’ve got to send a very strong message that it’s not welcome here, and that anybody that is peddling in it is going to face dire consequences,” Cameron said.
Beshear has pointed to gains made by Kentucky in its life-and-death battle against the drug crisis. Kentucky was among eight states that reported sizable overdose death decreases last year of about 100 or more, compared with the previous calendar year. The Democratic governor has pointed to a 50% increase in the number of drug treatment beds in Kentucky since he became governor in late 2019.
There are “far too many Kentuckians that we’re losing,” Beshear said last month, but the report offered “a real ray of hope that everyone, doing their best every single day, can make a difference.”
In pushing for a statewide wiretapping law to help combat drug organizations and gang activity, Cameron said Tuesday that it should include constitutional protections and judicial review procedures.
Another proposal in Cameron's plan calls for making changes to the state parole board to increase the vote threshold for an inmate's release and allowing the governor to remove board members. And he wants to require DNA collection from people booked for the most serious felony offenses, while including protections that automatically purge DNA when there's an acquittal or the charges are dismissed.