By John Celock
A proposal from earlier this year to merge the Kansas Highway Patrol and Kansas Bureau of Investigation is being replaced with a proposal to study a way for a new career path between the two agencies.
State House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee Chairman J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) has asked both agencies to start discussions over a plan that would outline a career path to go from KHP to KBI or the other way around. Claeys, who had first proposed the merger study, said that it would address the recruitment and retention issues in KHP, while providing KBI with a new pool of potential agents. KHP has been working to address a trooper shortfall in the state, including instituting a new pay raise and pension plan for troopers earlier this year.
“A unified career path to help address recruitment and retention in both agencies is the primary goal,” Claeys told The Celock Report. “Studying a merger is one way of accomplishing a unified career path, but this is also a direction we want as an option.”
The April proposal to study a merger between the two agencies was met with opposition from state Attorney General Derek Schmidt (R), who controls KBI, and was viewed as a likely nonstarter in the state Legislature. KHP is under the control of Gov. Sam Brownback (R). A merger would have likely created a new state police, similar to departments in other states.
In his letter to KBI Director Kirk Thompson and KHP Superintendent Col. Mark Bruce, Claeys asked for the agencies to start putting together an outline of a plan for how an officer can go between the two agencies and outline a career path. This would include a plan that could allow for a master trooper in KHP to move to KBI as a special agent without a loss in pay or starting over in rank.
“If credit could be given for time in law enforcement to make the rank and pay line up with previous law enforcement experience the transition may be viewed as part of a career path,” Claeys said.
Thompson told The Celock Report that he has reviewed the request and that he and his staff will begin to research the issue. He declined to discuss what the agency will recommend or if any career path can be drafted, saying that will be a part of the research conducted by KBI.
“I am not going to speculate on what our research may or may not show,” he said.
Thompson did not indicate a time line for completing the research, other than to note that Claeys asked for a plan in time for the start of the 2016 legislative session in January.
“It is a request from a member of the legislative body and we will of course follow-up on the request,” Thompson said.
KHP spokesman Lt. Adam Winters told The Celock Report that the Highway Patrol’s senior command staff will be meeting in the “near future” to begin discussions over the request. He said the discussions will include a decision on whether to explore the career path proposal and how to proceed with the request.
Winters said the command staff discussions will proceed in a quick fashion as part of the normal planning for the legislative session, but declined to give a detailed time frame.
Attorney general’s office spokesman Jennifer Rapp said the Schmidt’s office did not have a comment since they had not seen Claeys’ letter. In April, Schmidt described any attempt to remove KBI from the attorney general’s office as “contrary to the interests of public safety and would be a mistake.”
KHP was founded in 1937 to enforce the state’s motor vehicle laws. KBI was founded in 1939 by then Gov. Payne Ratner (R) and then Attorney General Jay Parker (R) after the Kansas Bankers Association and Kansas Livestock Association asked for an agency to address crime and criminal investigation in the state. A history on the KBI website says that potential political conflicts in the 1930’s within KHP prevented the creation of a unified state police to handled criminal investigations and motor vehicle enforcement. KBI’s work focuses on criminal investigations, drug enforcement and running the state’s crime lab.
A career path guideline that would allow for keeping rank and pay in line between KHP and KBI would be similar to civil service guidelines. State Department of Administration spokesman John Milburn told The Celock Report that civil service guidelines allow for experienced employees to move between departments and to higher positions as long as they meet experience and other qualifications set out in civil service rules. He noted that currently new civil service employees can be given a higher position within a civil service rank based on outside experience.
Claeys said that based on his previous conversations with Bruce and Thompson, he believes both want to address recruitment and retention issues within the state’s criminal justice agencies. He said that while his approach to the issue has changed, he is still hoping for a final plan that address the recruitment issue.
“I want a recruit to be able to see that they can receive promotion within the agency, but also across the agencies if qualified and see that as a true promotion,” he said