States pursue more, better-paid troopers

| 1/27/2005

More law enforcement officers would be out on Mississippi and Montana roadways if lawmakers in the two states give their blessings to proposals there.

An effort in the Montana House would provide more money to put additional Highway Patrol officers on the road and pay higher salaries to keep them from defecting to other agencies.

The number of uniformed patrol officers in the state has declined by 6 percent in the past 30 years to just over 200, even as Montana’s population grew 32 percent, The Associated Press reported.

Low pay and long hours were cited as the main reasons many officers left the force.

A bill offered by Rep. Larry Jent, D-Bozeman, would generate an estimated $6.5 million each year by adding a $5 fee to motor vehicle registrations. About $3.4 million of that would be used in fiscal year 2007 to increase patrol salaries and to hire 20 more officers to increase the patrol’s presence on Montana highways, with the rest going for as many as 50 new officers in coming years.

The bill – HB35 – would open up as many as 14 positions within the patrol by removing a state mandate requiring the agency to leave jobs unfilled to stay within its budget. The bill is in the House State Administration Committee.

The Mississippi Senate on Jan. 26 unanimously approved a bill to increase the number of state troopers.

The bill would appropriate $3 million to equip and train at least 50 new troopers.

The Mississippi Highway Patrol has 533 troopers, but 149 are eligible for retirement in the coming year.

There has been only one graduating class of new troopers in the past three years.

“Safety of our citizens is of the utmost importance to all Mississippians,” Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck said in a written statement. “We must continue to do whatever it takes to guarantee that our communities, highways and roads are safe for all Mississippi citizens.”

The measure – SB2429 – is headed to the House for consideration.