Florida Highway Patrol dealing with trooper shortage

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The number of speeding tickets issued by the Florida Highway Patrol has dropped for three straight years as the agency deals with a shortage of troopers.

Since 2010, the agency has lost 993 troopers – or about half of its workforce of 1,946 troopers, to retirement or resignations, the highway patrol’s director Col. Gene Spaulding told the Miami Herald (http://hrld.us/2r3mN13 ).

“That’s a big turnover,” said Spaulding, a 24-year veteran of the agency. “That’s really tough.”

This spring, for example, Spaulding said the agency has 240 vacancies and the reinforcements aren’t filling the void. The trooper academy typically has 80 recruits per class three times a year. He said the current class doesn’t even have half of that number.

Meantime, Spaulding said the agency does what it can to provide public safety, patrolling areas that include Interstates 4, 75 and 95 and Florida’s Turnpike in the nation’s third most populated state that also doubles as a tourist destination.

The Herald cited low pay as a possible reason for high turnover. A starting trooper in Florida makes about $34,000, the same wage that’s been in effect since 2005. In Mississippi, starting pay for a trooper is $38,000 and $47,000 in Louisiana.

It’s been three years since the last pay raise for most of state law enforcement. The $82.4 billion budget passed this year by the Florida Legislature includes a 5 percent raise. Even so, the salaries will remain behind troopers in surrounding states. And, the Herald noted, local police and sheriff agencies are luring troopers with pay increases. In Miami-Dade County, for example, the starting salary is over $50,000.

“This is crisis,” state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, told the newspaper. He’s been advocating for two years for across-the-board pay raises for state workers.

Spaulding said response times for troopers are getting longer as the workload increases. In 2011, the state reported 229,000 crashes. In 2016, the number increased to 395,000 crashes. And the number of tickets written by troopers has dropped about 18 percent from 317,000 in 2011 to 258,000 in 2016.

Local governments are picking up the slack, said Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight, who spent 20 years working for the highway patrol. In 2008, for example, Knight said the sheriff’s department worked 38 percent of the crashes in Sarasota County. Now it’s up to 71 percent.

“It’s not the fault of the highway patrol,” Knight said, adding that the Legislature is not stepping up to take care of the highway patrol.

Jim Williams is the Washington Bureau Chief, Digital Director as well as the Director of Special Projects for Genesis Communications. He is starting his third year as part of the team. This is Williams 40th year in the media business, and in that time he has served in a number of capacities. He is a seven time Emmy Award winning television producer, director, writer and executive. He has developed four regional sports networks, directed over 2,000 live sporting events including basketball, football, baseball hockey, soccer and even polo to name a few sports. Major events include three Olympic Games, two World Cups, two World Series, six NBA Playoffs, four Stanley Cup Playoffs, four NCAA Men’s National Basketball Championship Tournaments (March Madness), two Super Bowl and over a dozen college bowl games. On the entertainment side Williams was involved s and directed over 500 concerts for Showtime, Pay Per View and MTV Networks.