By Keith Goble
state legislative editor
Despite a $14 million boost in the two-year State Police budget approved by the Oregon Legislature this summer, the state will trim 20 troopers from its roads.
That will leave 309 troopers on patrol - the fewest in nearly 40 years.
The $14 million was earmarked for murder investigations and the state’s methamphetamine problem.
According to The Oregonian, the trooper cuts are necessary, due to increasing costs elsewhere in the budget, such as fuel, equipment and pension benefits.
Department officials said they would need an additional $4.3 million to hire 45 troopers to patrol Interstate 5 round-the-clock. Ninety new troopers could patrol the entire state all hours.
Lawmakers have told agency officials they can appeal to the Legislature’s Emergency Board for additional dollars.
Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, who steered the budget through the House, has offered one solution for state police. He is encouraging the agency to identify troopers now at desk jobs who might be put back on the roads.
However, the Oregon State Police Officers Association said it’s not that simple.
“I want to clarify this right now: There are no troopers driving desks who could be on the road,” Dan Swift, president of the police group, told the Statesman Journal. “Someone has to do paperwork and watch over evidence lockers. Those jobs have to be done - and are now doing those jobs.”
Trooper shortages are not unique to Oregon. Many states are fighting similar battles to keep officers on roads.
So much traffic, so few troopers
Reasons for shortages range from troopers heading to local departments that offer better pay, while others are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. State budget crunches have also hindered efforts to replace retiring troopers.
A tight budget has left Connecticut 47 troopers shy of intended levels, The Associated Press reported. Iowa has 20 fewer troopers than it did in 1970 while traffic on roadways in the state has doubled over the same time.
Nebraska’s trooper ranks have fallen from 505 two years ago to 428 today, largely because of retirements. Meanwhile, lawmakers in the state have approved adding only five new troopers.
In Mississippi, about 30 of the state’s 530 patrol officers have been called to active duty overseas.
The number of troopers in North Carolina has increased by 26 percent since the early ’70s, The AP reported. But the number of licensed drivers has more than doubled and there are 82 percent more vehicles on the road.
North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley had called for adding 50 troopers the state’s force, but lawmakers approved adding only 10.
Despite the constraints, a handful of states are making some progress in their efforts to keep roads staffed with officers.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol is holding its first academy for new troopers since 2003. More than 60 prospective troopers were accepted for the academy that started Aug. 31.
Even with the expected boost in troopers upon their graduation early next year, the news agency reports the patrol is 93 short of its authorized strength, with another 60 troopers expected to retire in 2006.
Losing the battle to replace retiring troopers in Texas, state legislators approved boosting trooper salaries this year to put them on the same level as police in the state’s metropolitan areas. More than 100 new troopers recently graduated from recruit school with another session slated to start in the spring.
Wyoming lawmakers approved very modest funding to add five more officers for the Highway Patrol, The Jackson Hole Zone reported. Plans are to fund another five next year.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Ed Rendell has announced his commitment to boost 180 state troopers to active patrol duty over the next year.
The governor recently signed the state’s budget providing for $14.8 million in new State Police funding. The added officers to the patrol would mark the biggest one-time increase in the past 25 years for Pennsylvania.