Public safety is now an issue with the Mississippi Highway Patrol's trooper shortage. With a lack of state funding, training new patrolmen is on hold, for now.
According to the Department of Public Safety, there are about 500 state troopers. But they are divided between the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations and driver services and administration. That leaves 275 troopers to patrol the highways and roads across 82 counties.
"Our main responsibility is to respond to traffic crashes and provide enforcement," Lieutenant Johnny Poulos with the Mississippi Highway Patrol says the agency is facing a manpower shortage that affecting their ability to patrol the state. Fully staffed, there would be at least one trooper for every county. Poulos says that's a luxury the MHP just doesn't have right now. "The problem is not only is the public at a disadvantage and they're being inconvenienced, the trooper is leaving this county unmanned." Poulos says the issue is causing troopers to patrol two and sometimes two and a half counties. That kind of workload equals a slower response time for emergencies such as accidents.
"It's very imperative that we have a patrol school next year and that's how we can address those issues," explains Poulos.
The last patrol school in Mississippi was in 2011. According to republican Senator Perry Lee that's only because of federal funding from Hurricane Katrina. Now it comes down to finding money for the patrol school.
"It will depend on the funding that we have, the revenues we have the time we start working on this for next fiscal year. Hopefully we will have enough money," says Senator Lee.
Democratic Senator Hillman Frazier supports having the patrol school sooner, rather than later. "Since money has been coming in at a higher rate than we anticipated, I think that should be a priority- a patrol school is something that we can not do without when the money is available."We also spoke with Governor Phil Bryant who recognizes and wants to fix the problem. "There will be funding for a trooper school and it will be without raising taxes or anyone's fees and we got to put those troopers on the road." Funding for a patrol school is in the governor's proposed budget due to come out in 2014. "If we don't have another highway patrol school lives will be lost," says Bryant. He also adds that even though there is a trooper shortage, highway fatalities are at their lowest ever, since officials have started tracking fatalities.
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