The Governor’s Race: Beshear and Cameron on law enforcement, public safety

Published 3:28 pm Friday, September 8, 2023

This is the third article in a weekly series covering the top issues Kentuckians consider before they head to the polls in November. The governor’s race will delve into candidates’ stances on various issues, and whether their record matches their words and promises.

Safety is paramount to all Kentuckians, which may be one reason why it’s taken center stage in the campaigns of both gubernatorial candidates, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

The opponents have taken turns trying to one-up each other on the questions of law enforcement and public safety since the general election season began, with dueling press conferences, announcements and advertisements.

The Kentucky Fraternal Order of Police, the largest such organization in the state, endorsed Cameron last month.

Beshear has shared endorsements from several former and current sheriffs, including the only two to serve as president of the National Sheriffs Association.

So, where do the candidates stand on key issues involving crime, police and jails?

“Law and Order” vs. “Catch and Release”

Cameron has a motto distinguishing his public safety record from his opponents’ – “I am the law and order candidate and Andy Beshear is the catch and release candidate.”

The attorney general is referring to Beshear’s move during COVID to release 1,700 state inmates early to reduce incidences of COVID in closely packed prisons.

These released prisoners included those deemed “medically vulnerable” or who had less than six months left to serve and had faced convictions for nonviolent, non-sexual crimes.

A year after their releases, 47% of the former prisoners were charged, but not necessarily convicted, of a new crime. Nearly a third faced a new felony charge.

Cameron and the groups supporting him, including the School Freedom Fund, have used these statistics to criticize Beshear’s public safety record.

However, Beshear has said that he believed at the time that the decision was a rational one, especially considering that 22 other states, including Arkansas, Kansas and Virginia, also approved similar early releases for COVID reasons.

Additionally, the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet said that most of the new charges were filed over six months from former prisoners’ time of release, meaning that they would have been out of jail at that time, even without Beshear’s act.

Beshear, for his part, has criticized  Cameron’s refusal to name a special prosecutor to investigate former Gov. Matt Bevin’s last-minute pardons, which included violent criminals including murderers and rapists. Some of those pardoned criminals went on to commit more crimes.

Cameron has not taken steps to appoint a special prosecutor, even though he said he would look into it in 2019, and has since said that he referred the issue to the FBI.

He has also hired several former Bevin advisers and lawyers involved in the pardons.

Rising Crime?

Kentucky State Police crime data shows that Group A offenses, a series of 23 crimes deemed “serious,” have risen in the past decade, but have dropped by 16.1% since 2019, when Gov. Andy Beshear took office.

Kentucky State Police crime data shows that incidents of homicide have risen in the past decade by 91%, have increased 31% since 2019, and declined by 17% in the past year.

Kentucky State Police crime data shows the prevalence of three of the most common serious crimes —assault, theft and drug/narcotic offenses—over the past decade.
Assault has risen by 57%, drug/narcotics offenses have increased by 29% and theft has declined by 15% since 2012. Drugs/narcotics offenses and theft have dropped since 2019, when Gov. Andy Beshear took office, though.

Another key debate in the race is whether crime is rising in Kentucky.

Cameron says it is, and Beshear is partially to blame. Beshear says it’s not.

Kentucky State Police crime data supports both statements, depending on the type of crime and timeframe.

Since 2021, violent crime has declined 9% and homicides have dropped 17%, as Beshear’s camp commonly touts.

Violent crime’s downward turn, which began in 2018, has continued throughout Beshear’s time in office, declining by 16.1% since 2019.

However, homicides have increased 31% since 2019 overall.

Cameron’s Public Safety Plan

Since primary season, Cameron has said he would add a Kentucky State Police post in Louisville to address crime and addiction.

When asked where the troopers for this post would come from, since there is a shortage across the state, Cameron said that he would focus more on recruitment.

This measure was one of 12 in a public safety plan Cameron launched several months ago.

He said he would increase law enforcement recruitment and retainment through a positive marketing campaign and analysis of successful recruitment models across the country. Cameron added that his first budget would include a $5,000 recruitment and retention bonus.

Other parts of his plan include:

  • Requiring the consideration of death sentence for those who kill police officers;
  • Blocking civilian review boards from subpoena power so officers are not required to testify in cases involving allegations of police misconduct to the independent boards;
  • Reforming the Kentucky parole board to increase the voting threshold to release prisoners, as well as granting himself the power to remove board members; and
  • supporting a law establishing a murder charge for drug dealers who indirectly cause fatal overdoses.

Beshear’s Record

Cameron isn’t the only one in the race with experience as an attorney general.

Beshear touted his record in the office, which he held before becoming governor, at his public safety presser several months ago.

During his term, he said he:

  • “went after human traffickers for really the first time in our commonwealth and secured some of the longest sentences under state law together;”
  • arrested a record number of child sex offenders;
  • sued to protect law enforcement pensions, and won;
  • tested every single rape kit in the state’s then-backlog; and
  • set up a cold case unit “to pursue justice for those that had been denied it for a decade or longer.”

If re-elected, he said he would advocate for the maximum increase in Kentucky Law Enforcement Foundation Program funding, money for a western Kentucky training facility and up-to-date body armor for all law enforcement.

Gun Control

Beshear and Cameron have mostly avoided the subject of gun control altogether during the general election.

Beshear has previously stated that any gun control measures are the job of the legislature.

During the primary, Cameron said in a debate that he does not support any sort of gun control.

“Second Amendment is sacrosanct, and we need to make sure that we protect it for Kentuckians all across the commonwealth,” he said.