Montana Highway Patrol commissions 9 new troopers
The Montana Highway Patrol commissioned nine new troopers Friday at the 62nd Advanced Academy Graduation ceremony. Supreme Court Justice Beth Baker addressed the graduates at the event, which took place at the Radisson Colonial Hotel in Helena. Baker reminded the new troopers of the important role they will play in the justice system. “Our citizens must know that their justice system provides a fair, independent, and unbiased process for safeguarding their rights and upholding the law without favor or prejudice. As law enforcement officers, you are the first face of the rule of law, she said.
Pennsylvania State Police welcome 90 new troopers
Commissioner Tyree C. Blocker announced today that 90 cadets graduated from the State Police Academy in Hershey and have been assigned to troops across the commonwealth. The men and women represent the 149th graduating cadet class. The ceremony at Bishop McDevitt High School marked the culmination of 27 weeks of classroom and physical training. Guest speaker, Pike County District Attorney Raymond J. Tonkin, joined Commissioner Blocker in congratulating the graduates on their achievements. Cadet William F. Golden, from Lackawanna County, spoke on behalf of the graduating class.
Acute trooper shortage prompts state police hiring initiative
An acute shortage of Virginia State Police troopers has prompted it to initiate an abbreviated academy program for existing law enforcement officers. “It’s really gotten to a critical stage probably in the last two to three years,” said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller of the trooper shortage. Through Aug. 31, Virginia State Police had 237 vacancies and a sworn force of 2,138, according to Geller, which includes troopers, special agents, commercial vehicle enforcement officers and supervisors. She was unable to break down the vacancies by division. From Jan. 1, 2016, through Aug. 31, 262 sworn personnel have left the department — 157 in 2016 and 105 in 2017, Geller said. The 2015 Virginia State Police’s Manpower Augmentation Study, based on calls for service and investigation caseloads, calls for an additional 932 sworn personnel in order to provide 24-hour coverage throughout Virginia. The study showed that in Division V, which covers James City and York counties, much of the Peninsula, south Hampton Roads and Virginia’s Eastern Shore, the state police needs an additional 139 troopers. The study noted that James City County is authorized to have 11 troopers, but needs 14, while York County is authorized to have 12 troopers, but needs 11. The abbreviated state police academy program, which will run eight weeks instead of the normal six months, is unprecedented in the department’s 85-year history, Geller said. Law enforcement officers who are Department of Criminal Justice certified and have at least three years experience, are eligible for the accelerated program. Even with the 2017 General Assembly approving salary increases, Virginia State Police Superintendent Stephen Flaherty said in a news release that many of its field divisions across the state have vacancy rates approaching 50 percent. “Despite the salary increases provided by the Virginia General Assembly this year, state police continue to struggle to prevent our sworn personnel from leaving for other agencies and then to fill those growing agencies in a timely manner,” Flaherty said. Trooper starting salaries had been $36,207 before the General Assembly action. The new starting salary is $48,719, except for beginning troopers in Northern Virginia, who make $60,587. In the 2017 session, the General Assembly approved extra funding to hike the starting salary to make it more competitive. Also, the General Assembly approved a 3 percent raise across the board for state workers, including troopers, and it also increased compression pay, which provides an increase in salary for existing troopers. “The pay raises have not sustained, so you’ve got folks who have been with the department for an extended period of time almost making as much, or less than, someone who is starting new,” Geller said. The previous starting salary, according to Geller, did not allow the state police to compete with localities or with other state police agencies across the country. Geller said the 30 troopers in the academy set to graduate in October is one of the smallest classes the state police has had in a decade. Typically, she said it graduates 60 to 80 people in an academy class. “We’re just having a difficult time, as is everybody right now, hiring to fill our vacancies,” Geller said. Virginia State Police are not only seeing fewer applications, the department is also not getting enough people to meet its standards, Geller said. But with a multitude of priorities — combating a rise in traffic deaths, investigating drug and violent crimes — Geller said troopers are foregoing vacations and time off to cover for one another. “We need the people in order to fulfill our whole mission,” Geller said. “A lot of folks think we’re just troopers who work crashes and write tickets.” Virginia State Police began accepting applications for its new accelerated lateral entry program Sept. 1, with the next academy class to begin in April 2018. Those selected for the program, Geller said, will be hired to a specific vacancy somewhere in Virginia. A scheduled academy class to begin in October, Geller said, was canceled because it wasn’t full. “We’ve still got to fill the vacancies, not only on our uniform side, but our investigative side as well," Geller said.
Iowa State troopers issue far more tickets for texting
The number of texting while driving tickets has skyrocketed in the two months since the newly enacted law calling for tougher punishments for offenders took effect July 1. The Iowa State Patrol has issued 230 tickets and 135 warnings for texting while driving since July 1, far more than troopers issued all last year. State patrol troopers issued fewer than 175 tickets for texting in 2016. “I’m just watching people’s behaviors as they go by,” Trooper Durk Pearston said. Officials say it will cost you if you don't put the phone down. A KCCI crew rode along with the Iowa State Patrol, and it didn't take long to find someone breaking the law. “The guy had his cell phone, still has it in his right hand there, but had it down in his lap by the steering wheel,” Pearston said. Alex Dinkla, an Iowa State Patrol spokesperson, said with the law being so new, they have to come up with creative ways to catch drivers in the act. Watching driving habits isn’t easy in a marked car. “Any time we have a marked law enforcement unit, full light bars, full stickers on the car, is people will instantly see that unit and they put their phone down and we know that right afterwards, they’re probably picking that phone back up,” Dinkla said. Some people are so intrigued by their phone, even that doesn't stop them. “We’re finding it is pretty personnel intensive, so that way we can try to find people that are texting and driving but also to be able to prosecute those charges as well,” Dinka said. Officials said though talking on your phone is not illegal, it can be just as much of a distraction. “You’re driving for yourself. But you also have to drive for everybody else on the road that might be on their phone or texting while driving,” Pearston said. Officers are using unmarked vehicles and plain-clothed troopers to catch motorists, but it can still be difficult for them to spot violations, said Maj. Randy Kunert, who heads the state patrol’s field operations. “The districts reported success in finding some violations, but indicated it is still a hard violation to detect,” he said. “It is very personnel intensive and often only one or two traffic stops were made per hour.” Sen. Tim Kapucian, R-Keystone, said the enforcement efforts send a strong message to the community that texting while driving isn’t acceptable. “You know, the word gets out and people will say, ‘Hey, I got a ticket for texting while driving,’ and that is going to reverberate with folks,” Kapucian said. Texting while driving increases the risk of crashing more than 20 times when compared to driving while not distracted, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The fine for texting while driving is $30, but court costs bring the total cost to about $100, according to the Legislative Services Agency. Forty-seven states prohibit texting while driving and 15 ban drivers from using hand-held cellphones altogether, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.