Bardstown leaves drug task force

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By Randy Patrick

The Bardstown Police Department is no longer part of the Greater Hardin County Narcotics Task Force.

Maj. Kevin Thompson, assistant chief for Bardstown, confirmed the decision Monday.

It was announced to members of the task force at a meeting July 17, by its director, Ron Eckart, right after he had learned about it.

Thompson said he, the other assistant chief, Maj. Joe Seelye, and Chief Kim Kraeszig made the decision to pull out of the regional drug task force because they wanted to establish their own drug task force within the department.

The decision was part of a discussion about how best to address the opioid drug crisis.

Thompson, who was the city’s representative on the task force’s board, said the administration decided it would be a better use of resources to “concentrate full-time where we need them,” rather than having the city’s officers handling investigations and busts in other counties.

Kraeszig said the new city drug task force has two officers assigned who were already working for Bardstown Police, and the third one will also come from within.

Bardstown Police had one detective assigned to the Greater Hardin County Narcotics Task Force, but he will not be on the new task force and is going back to patrol, Kraeszig said.

The Nelson County Sheriff’s Office also has one member on the regional force.

“It’s going to hurt my guy,” Sheriff Ramon Pineiroa said of the Police Department’s decision. “He doesn’t have a partner locally anymore. It’s going to put a strain on manpower.”

The sheriff said he will assign another deputy to assist his task force officer when he’s working a case, but that deputy won’t be part of the task force.

Pineiroa learned about the decision the morning of the quarterly meeting. Eckart received a phone call at 10:30 a.m. and notified the board just before noon, he said.

No reason was given.

The task force currently has 12 members to cover the region. Participating agencies include Kentucky State Police Post 4, the KSP DESI-West narcotics unit, the Elizabethtown Police Department, Hardin County Sheriff’s Office, Radcliff Police, Nelson County Sheriff, Leitchfield Police, Hart County Sheriff, LaRue County Sheriff and Vine Grove Police, but the last two listed don’t currently contribute any officers.

Bardstown’s pull-out will affect the task force’s bottom line. Each participating agency pays the salary and benefits of its member officers, and a state grant reimburses them for overtime. But money for equipment and other expenses comes from forfeiture of property used in drug trafficking and confiscated by police.

Kraeszig said the forfeiture money is divvied up with the state and feds, depending on whose case it is, but from now on, Bardstown will keep its local part of the forfeiture money rather than having it go to the task force.

“That’ll help us financially,” said Mayor Dick Heaton.

That was a significant factor in the decision, Heaton said, but another major factor is that the city’s Police Department is now fully staffed and has officers with considerable experience in investigating drug crimes.

Heaton said he and Kraeszig and her command staff have been talking about forming their own task force for two years.

Fighting drug addiction is a priority, Kraeszig said, because of what it does to families and the community and the “domino effect” it has on other crimes.

“I want those resources focused on our community,” she said.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Terry Geoghegan thinks the decision to pull out of the task force is ill-advised.

He gave a statement by phone Monday:

“It’s very disappointing to us in Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office. We only learned officially last week that this was occurring. Both our local departments have had a long and very successful cooperation with the multi-county task force that has proved successful in not only addressing the drug problem, but the theft, robbery and burglary crimes that finance the illegal drugs.

“The task force has had the knowledge and expertise to use multi-county contacts, an extensive informant network, the preparation and implementation of successful search warrants, and expertise to gather and present evidence for trial. We lose all that when the department withdraws and is staffed by retired officers from an urban department that lacks the expertise in these type of investigations and doesn’t have the local contacts necessary to gain needed information,” Geoghegan said.

Kraeszig, who retired from Louisville Metro before coming to work for Bardstown, as did Seelye, Thompson and others, said the new task force won’t include any retired officers from Louisville. One came here from Louisville, but was a lateral transfer. Another has been on the force a while.

The City Council recently authorized the expansion of the police force by two officers, bringing the total number to 30.

According to Eckart, Bardstown didn’t give reasons for leaving the regional task force when it gave 90 days notice, as required, but he guessed that they wanted to form their own unit and keep the forfeiture money themselves.

Eckart said late Monday the loss of an officer from Bardstown won’t affect the task force’s numbers because Elizabethtown is going to be adding another officer. But it will mean the group receives less information from Bardstown.

The director said the crimes don’t stop at city or county lines, so it’s useful to have a regional approach to fighting narcotics.

“Instead of just one agency, you have multiple agencies sharing intelligence,” he said.

However, he said, if Bardstown Police needs the task force’s assistance, they’ll be there, and he thinks they will do the same if requested.