Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement
Local officer is driven to safety

Press Release Date:  Monday, February 18, 2008  
Contact Information:  Joanie Baker
Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer

New Officer in Car Picture Deciding to become an officer for the Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement was not a difficult decision for Officer Wesley Miller.

Five years ago, Miller's mother was killed by a commercial truck on Dead Man's Curve, a sharp bend along U.S. 431 just south of Belton.

Miller said when he patrols areas in Muhlenburg and Daviess counties, he is often confronted by commercial drivers who get upset when he writes them citations for violating a regulation.

"Sometimes they get mad when I write a ticket, and I explain why I'm out here," he said.

The KVE has 179 officers who patrol highways and secondary roads to enforce federal and state regulations. One of the department's main emphases is enforcing commercial truck regulations through weigh stations and patrol officers. Those officers can stop a truck for the sole purpose of performing a safety inspection.

During a recent night on patrol in Daviess County, Miller said many people are surprised when they are stopped by a KVE officer because they think they can only stop trucks. Some are also unaware that the officers are fully sworn patrolmen who have been through police academy and that they have full arrest powers, Miller said.

While Miller said he mainly cruises U.S. 60 and other routes where commercial trucks are permitted to travel, he occasionally departs the beaten path.

"Every now and then I like to roam the back streets and see if I can find somebody like this without a license plate," he said, as he signaled for a white truck to pull off the roadway.

The department varies from other local law enforcement in many ways. Officers with KVE are never dispatched to calls by a 911 center -- rather a majority of their stops are self-initiated, though Miller said he often provides backup to other local agencies when they are short-handed or need assistance while waiting for another officer to arrive on a call.

Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement officers also don't have to have probable cause to search a commercial truck, Miller said. As part of the safety inspection that can be done during a traffic stop, Miller said officers can look throughout the entire unit.

During a typical commercial truck stop, Miller said it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to fill out paperwork, as opposed to a standard speeding ticket that takes about 15 minutes.

"Part of our money comes from federal agencies," Miller said. "For every hour we spend with a truck, the feds pay 75 percent of that hour."

After graduating from police academy, officers receive about four weeks of additional training each year. Last year, the department accrued more than 20,000 hours in training, as officers must stay on top of the vast number of ever-changing laws regulating commercial trucking standards. Those officers also have to stay familiar with hazardous materials that the trucks they watch may be carrying, Sgt. Malcolm Jessup said.

Jessup, who also patrols the Daviess County area, said while there are many differences between KVE and other departments, the job itself is very similar.

In the past year, Jessup and Miller received information from one driver that led them to obtain a search warrant on a local home suspected of having drugs.

"Law enforcement on an everyday basis is not always that exciting," Jessup said. "It's that one thing that happens every once in awhile that keeps it exciting."

Sgt. Tony Wilson, a K-9 officer with the department, said the department seizes cocaine, methamphetamine, heroine and marijuana from truck drivers looking to make quick money.

Wilson said suppliers will pay drivers about $10,000 to haul their cargo across country. Five dogs help patrol state highways, and Wilson said in the first six months of 2007, they had been dispatched to sniff trucks about 650 times.

Last May, one canine hit on a truck traveling on Interstate 65 that was carrying 1,400 pounds of marijuana valued at $2.8 million, according to Wilson.

KVE officers also face different officer safety concerns than most law enforcement officers.

As their job is stationed mainly on busy highways, watching out for speeding vehicles or reckless drivers during a traffic stop is a much more frequent concern.

Recently, Miller said he had to dive under a semi-truck to avoid being hit by a speeding motorist who had failed to move to the left lane. Miller said he generally tries to have commercial truck drivers come to the rear of their vehicle so they can handle matters in a safe area.

"It can get really dangerous out here," he said.