Pearl River County seeks more MHP troopers

Published 7:00 am Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mississippi Highway Patrol troopers are in short supply across the state, and Pearl River County is no exception.
MHP Troop K Public Information Officer Chase Elkins said out of the 650 available positions in the state, only about 480 are filled.
“Half of those aren’t even on the road,” Elkins said.
In Troop K, “we need double what we have now,” he said, which is 20 officers covering the six coastal counties of Pearl River, Hancock, Harrison, Stone, George and Jackson.
Three troopers are assigned to patrol and respond to emergencies in Pearl River County, Elkins said.
The staff shortage puts pressure “especially on the guys that are working on [holiday] weekends,” he said.
On an average day, 10 troopers in the district are on duty, Elkins said.
During holidays, troopers are asked to work on their day off, after already working 12 to 15 days in a row, he said.
“They get a few days off, and then have to get back on the road; that takes time away from family,” Elkins said.
MHP Troopers don’t get overtime pay, he said.
Forty-eight new troopers graduated from the last Mississippi Highway Safety Patrol academy in March 2015, including two former Picayune Police Department officers, previous Item coverage states.
Elkins said previous classes were held in 2007 and 2011, amounting to three patrol schools in the last 12 years.
It’s up to the legislature to decide when to fund patrol schools, he said.
According to multiple news outlets, Gov. Phil Bryant asked the Mississippi Legislature to fund another patrol school this year to compensate for the shortage.
“The reason we’re so short is because in four years we have had more troopers retire and leave for other positions,” Elkins said. “Our main goal is getting another patrol school, but the only way to do that is if the legislature approves that.”
Besides the strain on a trooper’s balance between work and family, Elkins said the shortage of staff inhibits a trooper’s ability to patrol and work accidents.
“If a guy is working an accident, he can’t enforce traffic violations,” Elkins said.
That means troopers are issuing fewer citations, and drivers are driving more recklessly because they don’t see as many patrol vehicles on the road, he said.
“It also puts a strain on the public and the roadways,” due to an increase in accidents, some being fatal, Elkins said.
The cost to train, graduate and supply 60 cadets with equipment, vehicles and a year’s salary is about $6.7 million, Elkins said, or about $111,000 per cadet.
Though the cost seems high at first, he said there’s a lot that is included within that number.
Elkins said he is hopeful the legislature will approve a new patrol school this session.
“If they approve it early, Highway Patrol can get started early with the application process,” he said.
If approved, the patrol school could start as early as July and have troopers on the road by February or March, Elkins said.
If legislators wait until later in the session, troopers won’t be on the road until the summer, Elkins said.
When the state approved a new pay scale in 2016, a lot of troopers became eligible for retirement, Elkins said.
By 2020, he said between 100 and 150 troopers statewide could retire, “putting our numbers on the road close to 100,” Elkins said.
As soon as a new patrol school is approved, Elkins said recruiting will begin from local law enforcement agencies and the public.

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About Julia Arenstam

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