State Police Face Staffing Shortages as Salaries Languish
Virginia’s state police expected an influx of money from the new state budget. Instead, they learned this summer that a shortfall would quash promised raises for all state employees and doom a separate effort to give experienced officers an additional pay boost. The week the deficit became public, 11 Virginia troopers and civilians quit. “Many of our people have just kind of thrown their hands up and said, ‘Listen, I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to take care of my family and if you’re not going to help me do it, then I’m going to go elsewhere,’ said Wayne Huggins, who heads the Virginia State Police Association. It’s a problem that state police departments — which patrol highways, assist local officers, and serve as the only law enforcement in some rural areas — are facing across the country. A combination of low pay, baby-boom retirements and recruitment troubles has left state police departments short of manpower. Fewer troopers also puts public safety at risk because large swaths of highways go unpatrolled, and response times to crashes and other emergencies are growing longer, Huggins said. “We perform roles that only the state police [can],” Huggins said. Beyond salaries, continuously tight budgets across many states can take a toll on troopers’ morale. Outdated equipment, the disappearance of fringe benefits like cellphone allowances, and the demand for overtime work in exchange for comp days that they may not even have time to take have convinced many officers to head for the exits. And attracting replacements is increasingly difficult as recruits favor the many municipal police departments that pay more than their state counterparts. The Virginia State Police, for instance, saw a nearly 50 percent decrease in applications between February and August, and only 31 percent of applicants actually showed up for testing. Declining unemployment and rising police-community tensions could be partly to blame for fewer applicants, according to Nelson Lim, a sociologist who analyzes recruitment, retention, diversity and other police personnel issues for the RAND Corp., a nonprofit public policy think tank. Even before this summer’s resignations, the Virginia State Police had gaping holes in its force. Over the last decade, the department’s budget has been reduced by $107 million, including a $13.1 million cut this year. The starting salary for a Virginia trooper is $36,207, which is several thousand dollars below the national average, Huggins said. Like many other state police departments, the force also has been depleted by a flood of baby-boom retirements. Overall, the force is short 237 sworn officers, the equivalent of 11 percent of its 2,118 troopers, special agents and supervisors. It’s also short more than a hundred civilian employees, who are responsible for tasks that include manning 911 call centers and maintaining vehicles. The story is similar in Maine, where state police decided low salaries were to blame for their staffing vacancies. They hope pay raises ranging from 12 to 18 percent will reverse the shortage. In Pennsylvania, where the number of state police retirees is expected to balloon in the next few years, the department has struggled to get more money from the state because transportation advocates have previously argued that funds would be better spent on infrastructure. In Georgia, troopers cannot get to thousands of crashes each year because of staffing shortages caused by low pay and recruitment struggles. In Iowa, the trooper training academy hasn’t hosted a new class in two years, and state police are operating with 102 fewer officers than they had in 1998. State Patrol spokesman Sgt. Nathan Ludwig isn’t sure how much the $50,564 starting salary has to do with those staffing shortages, but he knows that a large number of retirements are, at least in part, to blame.“We’re trying to replace the people who are retiring and it’s hard to do that,” Ludwig said. In Washington state, retirements and resignations meant for years that more officers were leaving the force than recruits were joining it. The issue came to a head in 2015, when 31 troopers quit, moving to other, higher-paying police agencies. Including the number of people who retired, 106 troopers left the force that year. The resignations created almost four times as many vacancies as the previous six years — combined. Washington State Patrol had known for years that its salaries weren’t competitive. But a study requested by the Legislature and conducted last year found more than money was involved. Troopers also were dissatisfied with a management culture that left them feeling disconnected out on the road, said Travis Matheson, the agency’s recruiting director. People who work in law enforcement don’t do it for the money, Matheson said. But it does make a difference. Morale is affected, he said, by the fact that troopers make less money than many of their counterparts in neighboring police and sheriff’s departments. “They would work next to their counterparts in other organizations that were a lot smaller, with a lot less prestige, with a lot less training and lot of things that didn’t compare to us, but they were making a lot more money than we were,” Matheson said. Washington State Patrol salaries fall below that of a number of local police agencies. For example, entry-level state troopers earn $54,192 a year — $22,509 less than their counterparts in Kennewick, who draw $76,701 in their first year of service at the southeast Washington police department. Now, that’s changing. Troopers will get about a 30 percent raise over the next several years (funded by a $30 increase in the state vehicle license fee), starting with an increase in the starting salary to $57,783 in 2018. The law that dictates the raises also requires the state patrol to invest in recruitment campaigns to attract people who are unlikely to show interest in joining the force, including those who live in low-income and minority neighborhoods. Already, the department has used billboards to advertise. And it’s experimenting with testimonials from new troopers on social media and popular apps like Pandora, an internet radio station, to encourage people to sign up. “They’re very young,” Matheson said of the troopers featured in the ads. “They look and sound young. They’re a diverse representation of the agency.” A dedicated source of funding might be the solution in other states, said Huggins, the Virginia trooper representative. He points to legislation offered by Virginia state Sen. Charles Carrico, a Republican and former state trooper who wants to create a dedicated revenue stream to support the state police by raising vehicle registration fees by $1.25 each year through 2026. “We don’t need a Band-Aid,” Huggins said. “These problems have been persisting for years. They just have grown almost to a crisis point now. We need some long-term solutions.” The blame for the staffing problems often goes beyond money. Police departments need to speed up their hiring process, which can sometimes take up to a year, said Jon Walters, a former police officer from Washington who founded Public Safety Testing, a company that streamlines applications so candidates can apply to more than one agency at a time. “The reality is that in the private sector, for even highly skilled positions, they [employers] can make a decision in weeks rather than months,” Walters said. “That’s what we’re competing against.” Police agencies also should consider making it easier for recruits to join by easing up on the measures they use to evaluate potential officers, said Lim of the RAND Corp. Forcing local and state recruits to take tests in which they have to decipher complicated legal terminology before they’ve even gone through training often rules out candidates who could be excellent law enforcement agents, he said. They just haven’t learned the material yet. And while physical tests like jumping 6-foot fences and dragging human-sized dummies around demonstrate physical ability, officers may have to do those types of things only once or twice in an entire career, Lim said. So, the tests aren’t consistent with everyday requirements of the job. “Most of the time, these tests are homegrown tests,” Lim said. “They are not scientifically significantly validated”.
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New Jersey State Trooper saves drowning deer
New Jersey State Trooper Dwayne Phillips was dispatched to a home in Harmony Township where he found a deer struggling for dear life in a swimming pool, WPIX reported. State troopers aren’t trained to rescue animals from pools, but Phillips acted quickly to bring the deer to safety. “Well, he grabbed the buck by its rack and pulled him from the water to safety!” New Jersey State Police said in a Facebook post. “Now, there is always the possibility of serious injury or worse when trying to rescue a drowning victim and even more so when the victim is a wild animal. But this trooper did an outstanding job!” The buck took a moment to come to its senses before it ran off. Its location is unknown. “The most rewarding thing that we can do as troopers is to save a life, human or animal,” New Jersey State Police said.
Fallen Virginia State Trooper honored
Virginia legislators and Prince George County officials, as well as state and local law enforcement, gathered Friday in Prince George County to dedicate the Route 301 bridge over Interstate 95 in memory of Virginia State Police Trooper Nathan-Michael W. Smith. Trooper Smith, 27, died on September 21st, 2015 when his patrol car ran off the left side of the Interstate 295 exit ramp and crashed into the wood line in Prince George County. The Suffolk native joined the Virginia State Police Department in December 2013. Following graduation, Trooper Smith was assigned to the Richmond Division’s Area 7 Office, which encompasses the cities of Hopewell and Petersburg, and the counties of Dinwiddie, Nottoway and Prince George. The Route 301 bridge in Prince George County at Exit 45 over Interstate 95 has been designated as the Trooper Nathan-Michael W. Smith Memorial Bridge Through the efforts of Virginia Senator Rosalyn R. Dance, Virginia Delegate Lashrecse D. Aird and the Virginia State Police Association.
Florida Trooper Rescued a Bald Eagle
Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Julio Velez rescued an American Bald Eagle on the Florida Turnpike.
The Greg Walker Challenge
After an Oregon State Trooper lost his battle with cancer, his friends created a challenge to honor his memory. Oregon State Trooper Greg Walker lost his battle with cancer on July 22, 2016. His good friend and Colorado State Trooper Jeremiah Sharp created The Greg Walker Challenge to take Trooper Walker's OSP challenge coin across the country. The goal is to get a photo of the challenge coin in the hands of troopers in 49 states. On Sunday, the challenge coin made it to the Indiana-Ohio border where Indiana State Trooper Eric Fields and Ohio State Trooper Steve Ilo were pictured with the coin on I-70. “When the coin has completed the journey, another recipient will follow. Trooper Walker's Challenge will remain a movement in Greg's honor, to recognize the challenge of other Law Enforcement Professionals who are fighting for their lives," the Facebook page reads.
Michigan State Police gifted "vapor wake" dog
We’ve all see the headlines of people carrying backpacks containing explosives into public spaces. Sometimes their actions result in death, other times the public is spared. And now our state has a “new line” of defense against these threats. They’re called “vapor wake dogs” and the Michigan State Police has been gifted one of them. He’s a genetically bread Labrador named Louie, and his handler is Michigan State Police Trooper Tim Johnson. “Their sense of smell is greater than human beings. It’s not that we can’t smell the odor but we have to be much closer to it and there’s no way we can follow it like the dogs do,” explains Trooper Johnson. Louie is a 15-month-old Lab, still a puppy, but ready to work. He’s called a vapor wake dog, trained to detect the scent of explosives when they are in motion or in a crowd. “If you’re walking in a mall and man or woman walks by you with perfume or cologne on you get a couple steps past that person after they’ve passed you smell that in the air, the perfume. And that’s the way the dog does the vapor wake,” adds Trooper Johnson. The two tested out their skills this past weekend walking through the crowds at Michigan State before the football game. “He’ll grab the odor and then try to figure out what person has it on them and then trail the odor until they come across the person that has it on them and continued to follow them until the person stops,” says trooper Johnson. “So he is locked on the lady that’s walking at a faster rate than all the other people and he will follow continue follow her until she stops or we tell her to stop.” If these dogs pick up the scent of a bomb they can follow the vapor plume up to the length of several football fields. Louie and other dogs like him are trained at Auburn University in Alabama.
Massachusetts State Troopers assist a woman in labor
Two Massachusetts State Troopers jumped into action on an extra-special assignment Sunday night, helping assist a woman as she went into labor on the Massachusetts Turnpike. The call came in just after 7 p.m. Sunday evening from a Framingham couple who had pulled over on Interstate 90 Eastbound at the Allston Brighton tolls, State Police said. Trooper Joseph Hilton arrived first, followed quickly by Lieutenant William Nee, beating Boston EMS to the scene. The couple, meanwhile, had pulled into the parking lot just after the toll booth at Exit 18. The woman, by this time, was in active labor, according to State Police, and both troopers jumped in to assist. State Police said EMS arrived around 7:35 p.m., and the baby boy was delivered inside the ambulance. The baby and his parents were then taken to Mass. General Hospital. "Excellent work by all involved," State Police said in a press release. Police did not disclose the couple's name, but did share a photo of them and their newborn from MGH, with Trooper Hilton standing by.
New York State Police has more than 220 new troopers reporting to duty
A class of more than 220 new troopers graduated from the New York State Police Academy's Basic School last week, and they will report for duty across the state on Thursday. At least five of them will begin their service with Troop E, which is headquartered in Canandaigua. The academy program lasts for 26 weeks, and is followed by an additional ten weeks of field training. It's the 204th graduating class in the academy's history. Seven of the graduates are originally from Monroe County, including trooper Olivia Beck, who said she's really looking forward to getting out on the road. "It feels great to finally be able to say that I'm a state trooper," Beck said. "It's a great feeling to see myself and all of my classmates walk across the stage in uniform, to see all of our hard work pay off after seven months, and not just the last seven months at the academy but the years that in took in preparation to get to the academy." Beck will be assigned to Troop D, which is headquartered in Oneida and serves seven counties in central New York. The graduation ceremony was held at the Empire State Plaza Convention Hall in Albany, where Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul congratulated the graduates and thanked them for their commitment to public service. "Six months ago these outstanding men and women answered the call to serve, and after the rigors of training they are ready to join one of the finest law enforcement agencies in the world," said Hochul. "This class chose the motto ‘Protecting New York to the core, we are the 204’, and nothing could speak more to their courage and sense of dedication." Hochul also said she was encouraged to see that the number of women in each class of troopers continues to grow. "Last time I spoke (at an academy graduation) there were 28 women among your ranks", Hochul said, "and today there are 42." Among them was Samantha Hartmann of Remsen (Oneida county), whose mother Beth Lamphere is also a state trooper. They are believed to be the first mother and daughter to both serve with the New York State police. In addition to honoring all graduates from the 204th academy class, New York State Police Superintendent George Beach presented individual awards to a handful of students. Trooper Joseph A. Sparacino, who will join Troop E in Canandaigua, received the Academic Achievement award for attaining the highest level of academic performance during training. Sparacino, 27, was a police officer with the town of Tonawanda before joining the State Police. "It's been my dream to be a trooper," Sparacino said. "I'm just excited to get back on the road and do the job I love doing."
Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper back on the job
After nearly a year away from the job, one Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper is back with the people he calls family. "From the moment that it happened, I had the OHP just take me in and just took care of me," said Jana Richardson. It was back in January on I-40 in Pottawatomie County, and roads were iced over. Trooper Jason Richardson was walking along the highway working previous crashes, when the driver of an SUV lost control and slid into the center median cable barrier. That vehicle overturned and hit Richardson forcing him into the roadway. He suffered a broken leg, and broken ribs, as well as internal injuries. After nine months recovering, Richardson is back with OHP and says he's thankful for his life, and his time to reflect on his faith. "I assure you, I'm ready," he said. "I'm ready to meet my maker. I don't want to leave my family, obviously but as far as the way I felt, again -- humbled -- and very appreciative." Richardson is from Latt. His wife Jana says, their family got tons of support from the community. "It's good to live in a small town because you're always going to have somebody there for you," said Jana Richardson. Richardson says that support helped his wife while he recovered. "The support has been overwhelming," Jason Richardson said. "I know we received cards and gifts and food, from numerous people." Richard says he hopes his story reminds people to take it slow on the ice or any other hazardous condition. "My safety is very important, I want to go home to my family," he said.
Iowa State Trooper's simple act of kindness helps flood victims
A group of Cedar Rapids police officers and state troopers help turn a bad situation into a positive one, with the help of a teddy bear. During the flooding in Cedar Rapids, Melissa Bishop had her car stolen. A week later, police found her car, but items inside were missing, including her 6-year-old daughter's "blankie." Her daughter was devastated. Melissa says, "That thing was kind of a constant for her. It was her one thing that she could count on, so to have someone take that from her... was very difficult. She was just inconsolable." A state trooper could see that, so he stepped in with "Trooper the Bear." It turned a bad moment into a special memory that Melissa hopes her daughter will always remember. Melissa says, "This showed my daughter that the good guys will always outnumber the bad guys, that there will always be someone there that is going to make it all better. I was struggling to figure out a way to do that ...and then he stepped in and made things right for her." Melissa does not know the trooper's name who went above and beyond for her daughter. She wrote a letter thanking the entire department for their small act of kindness that made a big difference for one 6-year-old.
Tennessee Highway Patrol to be recognized as Top State Police/Highway Patrol in the Nation
The Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) is heading to San Diego, California this week to attend the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference to receive the top three awards. THP was named the “First Place Winner” in the Highway Patrol/State Police agency category consisting of 501-1500 troopers in the nation for 2016. Additionally, THP won two awards in “Traffic Incident Management and Technology”. THP competed by presenting programs and results of public safety efforts. All law enforcement agencies in the country (local police departments, sheriff’s offices, campus police, military police and state police agencies) were invited to submit a presentation or packet detailing their public safety efforts. The THP competed in the largest state agency category which is the “mid-size department” division of state police agencies between 501-1500 troopers. Additionally, THP competed against all law enforcement agencies in the special awards category. Over the last four years, THP was the only state police agency to place in the top three and won several special awards for their Commercial Vehicle Program. First Place - State Police Agency with 501-1500 troopers. Winner - The Technology Special Award Category for predictive analytics program in their TITAN Division. Winner - The Traffic Incident Management Special Award Category based on their training program and the facility that was built with the help of TDOT at our Training Center.
Texas Trooper Helps Deliver Baby
A State Trooper helped deliver a baby boy on Saturday. Trooper Joe Morris was responding to a call about a woman in labor headed for a College Station hospital. But she didn't make it to the hospital. Instead, Trooper Morris met the family at the Exxon gas station off of FM 50 in Burleson County. Together, he and the dad helped deliver a healthy baby boy. "It was pretty humbling because you can see how things can change so quickly and in such big ways. It's always neat if you get experience seeing a baby being born, a new life being brought into the world," Morris said. The Trooper met the family on Sunday at the hospital. Mom and the son are well and will be released soon.
Horse wandering Massachusetts Turnpike returned home safely
A horse that was found wandering the Massachusetts Turnpike in Charlton Saturday morning has been captured and returned home safety, state police have announced. Massachusetts State troopers responded to reports of a loose horse on Interstate 90 Westbound between Exits 9 and 10 around 9:30 a.m. Officers were quickly able to capture the wandering horse and remove it from the highway without incident. The horse was returned home to a farm, which state police said is located near I-90. State Police said they believe the horse made its way onto the highway after slipping through a fence.
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