Between late 2010 and the end of 2014, the state of Alabama did not hire a single state trooper. Despite this freeze, we still had over 400 state troopers.
Now we have less than 300.
That leaves us over 700 men and women short of the number that we need (1,000) according to the Center for Advanced Public Safety at the University of Alabama.
In fact, since that hiring freeze, trooper levels have dipped 22% further. The year before the freeze there were 333 fatal accidents on Alabama roads. Last year there were 848.
That’s a 155% increase in roadway fatalities.
After spending the last 21 years as a state trooper, I can assure you there’s a clear correlation between those numbers. There is no question that more troopers on the road deter accidents and saves lives.
Response times can be measured in hours, not minutes in rural counties. Many times troopers are handling multiple counties, covering hundreds of miles. Ideally backup is a few minutes away, but at current levels, it could be 45 minutes or more. We’ve reached a point in staffing where it’s no longer just a safety concern for the people we serve, it’s a safety concern for our officers.
The force continues to grow older with a shrinking applicant pool to replace them. Many in our current force are eligible for retirement or will be soon. Without the ability to offer competitive salaries and benefits, those pools will continue to shrink.
It’s not just a manpower shortage, resources are scarce as well. Troopers head out onto the highways in cruisers that are past their useful life, with equipment that needs to be replaced. Safety concerns are exponentially compounded when you’re understaffed and under-equipped.
Alabama doesn’t have unlimited funds, but the state is in a very different economic situation than we were in 2010. The unemployment rate has hit record lows, the economy is growing, and the state budgets are in better shape than they’ve ever been. One of the primary functions of Government is protecting its citizenry and that begins with a properly funded state police unit.
This notion was borne out in a recent survey of Alabamians. 75% of respondents believe a lack of Troopers is leading to unsafe roadways. 75% also think Troopers should receive more funding, even if it means making other cuts in the budget.
The decision to serve the people of this state was an easy one, but the job can be anything but. Our current funding level makes it nearly untenable. Alabama has a long history of unwavering support of our first responders. Please encourage your lawmakers to continue that tradition.
David Steward is the President of the Alabama State Trooper Association.