Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Low pay, aging officers leading to critical state trooper shortage in many states

State trooper in Mississippi
(Clarion-Ledger photo by Therese Apel)
Many states are facing a severe shortage of state troopers, blamed on low salaries, high workloads and an aging workforce. In Mississippi, for example, only 489 of 650 available positions are filled, with 149 of those troopers eligible for retirement, Therese Apel reports for The Clarion-Ledger. Department of Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz told Apel, "We're so shorthanded right now it's unreal. The only thing that's saved us this past year is no hurricanes in the Gulf, no major tornadoes, no floods."

While the number of troopers has declined, the "number of highway fatalities and injuries has been steadily climbing," Apel writes. Gov. Phil Bryant said on Friday: "It's troubling. We're almost at the point of declaring a disaster because we're short on troopers. If we can't get more troopers on the road we're going to lose lives. People's very lives depend upon having more troopers on that road."

One reason for the shortage is low pay, Apel writes. At least five troopers have left Mississippi for Texas, where a trooper with four years experience makes $89,264, compared to $41,000 in Mississippi. "A trainee in Mississippi makes $16,100 a year, to be bumped up to roughly $38,000 upon graduation. According to the 2015 pay scale, a Mississippi trooper doesn't top $50,000 until he or she hits the rank of staff sergeant with 16 years on the force."

Mississippi isn't alone. Alabama had 259 troopers in July 2016, or one trooper per every 19,306 drivers, reports Dothan First, part of the Nexstar Broadcasting Group. State trooper Kevin Cook told Dothan First, "There are alot of days where there may be a trooper out in one county but they are responsible for a nine other counties. That is a very common thing."

Despite graduating 37 troopers in August, Washington, where pay is low and a number of troopers are nearing retirement, still had 145 job openings, Austin Jenkins reports for Oregon Public Broadcasting. Retirements have caused a shortage of troopers for the Florida Highway Patrol, reports John Rogers for WFLA News Channel 8 in Tampa.

In Virginia, poor salaries and an unsustainable workload were blamed for 103 troopers leaving the state police in the first nine months of 2016, reports The Associated Press. As of September, the state was reportedly short 220 troopers.

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