Shortage of troopers
Published 7:00 am Wednesday, March 5, 2014
By Jeremy Pittari
Mississippi Highway Patrol needs more troopers enforcing traffic laws and working accidents, but a patrol school to train more personnel has not been funded since 2011.
Mississippi Highway Patrol Lt. Johnny Poulos said the law enforcement organization is state approved to have a maximum of 650 sworn troopers, of which only 500 positions are filled. Out of that figure, only 288 actively patrol state highways and roadways. Poulos said the remaining number is either assigned to the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations or driver services.
“That’s the thing a lot of people don’t realize…. there’s only 288 troopers out on the highways performing enforcement and working traffic accidents,” Poulos said.
The problem was exacerbated during last month’s ice storms when troopers were shifted from their assigned district to assist other areas, Poulos said.
“So it’s a shell game right now,” Poulos said.
To hold a patrol school that could train 60 troopers would cost $6.9 million. Poulos said the 23-week course is tough and required for every trooper that joins MHP, even if that person has previous law enforcement experience.
Even if the course is funded, and all 60 troopers graduate, Poulos said there are 120 troopers on staff that are eligible to retire. If those troopers decided to retire it would leave the department shorter staffed, he said.
Since the last patrol class in 2011 MHP lost 80 troopers due retirement, promotions and troopers moving on to other jobs.
“If we don’t have anything in place we will always be short,” Poulos said.
Currently the state legislature is working on a budget and considering funding requests, according to a release from Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ office. Negotiations on the budget will begin in the middle of the month.
“There are raise requests from the sheriffs, tax collectors, county supervisors and teachers plus a trooper school, and other worthy projects from agencies,” said Reeves in the release. “We have a lot more good ideas than we have money. You will see Senate and House leadership sit down in a few weeks to look at what taxpayers can afford and what best meets the needs of the state.”
Poulos said he feels the legislature is aware of the Highway Patrol’s needs and of their job to provide for the public’s safety.
However, under the current manpower shortage accident response times could range from an hour and a half to two hours if a trooper has to travel across two counties before arriving on scene, Poulos said.
“We can’t even provide visibility right now,” Poulos said. “All of our day is spent going from one crash to another.”