Kentucky Sheriff Advises Residents to Lock Doors, Load Guns Amid Suspension of All Law Enforcement Activities

A sheriff in Eastern Kentucky recently delivered a stunning message to residents, warning that he’s been forced to suspend all law enforcement activities due to a lack of funds. As for the men and women of his town, they’re on their own.

“Lock your doors, load your guns and get a biting, barking dog,” Martin County Sheriff John Kirk wrote in a Facebook post. “WE ARE BROKE.”

The county’s top cop added that local criminals “will have a ball.”

Martin is a rural county of about 11,500 which is heavily dependent on coal. It was ranked as the worst-performing white-majority county in the nation by U.S. News & World Report earlier this year. Poverty there remains above 30%.

According to the Lexington Herald-Leader, Martin’s financial problems stem from the moribund coal industry.

Sheriff Kirk said his office had been waiting on a $75,000 payment from the fiscal court but it never arrived. That’s because declining revenues and coal severance funds also left the court fiscally strapped. That put the sheriff’s office on the hook for $99,000 in workers’ compensation insurance, retirement, and social security benefits, forcing layoffs, Kirk said.

The issues plaguing the Martin County Sheriff’s Office and the county’s fiscal court are similarly felt by local governments throughout Eastern Kentucky, where sharp declines in coal severance taxes have forced county governments to make spending cuts and layoff workers.

Money provided to coal-producing counties in Eastern Kentucky by the state’s Local Government Economic Assistance Fund, a primary source of coal severance tax dollars for local governments, dropped from $34 million in Fiscal Year 2012 to $6.7 million in Fiscal Year 2018.

Residents of Martin will have to rely on the state police for any law enforcement needs. Due to a lack of personnel and wide jurisdiction, the agency is considered less reliable in cases of emergency.