Fewer MHP troopers on duty as economy, staffing take toll

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Military call-ups have not greatly affected area MississippiHighway Patrol activities, but tough economic times and othertrooper personnel issues are having an impact, MHP officialssaid.

Currently, only three troopers in the nine-county southwestMississippi district are on active duty, said Staff Sgt. RodCrawford, public affairs officer.

“We weren’t hit as hard as some other districts throughout thatstate,” Crawford said.

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Crawford said some districts have as many as 10 troopers away onmilitary duty, which in some cases is as much as one-third of thework force. Trooper positions must be left open until militarypersonnel return from active duty.

Still, District 9 now has 24 troopers to cover its nine-countyarea, Crawford said.

“It leaves gaps in our enforcement, meaning counties are havingto be covered with one trooper for multiple counties,” Crawfordsaid.

Under the staffing situation,Crawford said one trooper wasassigned to cover Lincoln and Lawrence counties on Monday. Hementioned an upcoming scheduling where one trooper would beassigned to those two counties plus Jefferson County.

In earlier years, Crawford said the district had two troopersfor Lincoln and one each for Lawrence and Jefferson counties.

Crawford said troopers now are assigned areas of coverageinstead of counties. He said the staffing situation is taxing theexisting work force by troopers having to cover greater and greaterareas.

“It rears its head and shows itself in times of inclementweather when we’re having accidents and crashes occurring on ourroads,” Crawford said.

Crawford mentioned instances where troopers may have to work anaccident in one county and then have to respond to another twocounties away. Enforcement of traffic laws is also impacted.

“The fewer men you have actually enforcing the law is going toreduce enforcement activity,” Crawford said. “So much of their timeis taken away from conducting enforcement activities.”

Statewide, Crawford said MHP is losing about 20 troopers a year.He cited retirement, attrition and troopers leaving to seek otheremployment.

Crawford also indicated that tougher economic times are makingit difficult to replace troopers.

“It’s very expensive to train a Mississippi state trooper,”Crawford said.

Crawford said it costs about $100,000 in first year expenses fora trooper’s salary, training, automobile, equipment, uniform andbenefits. He said a typical trooper class has 30-50 members.

The process is also time-consuming. Crawford mentionedpreparations needed for the legislature to approve a new class plusa total of six months of training at school or in service.

Crawford mentioned the Department of Public Service director’sdesire to have three new trooper classes in next three years.However, the legislature would have to approve a new class, whichcould not begin until a year from now.

“We’re looking at 18 month at the earliest before we additionaltroopers on the road,” Crawford said.

One possibility to ease the situation is legislative approval toallow troopers to work overtime, Crawford said. Troopers currentlyreceive nine days off out of every 28-day work period.

Statewide, allowing troopers to work four of their off dayswould be the equivalent of 63 new troopers, Crawford said. He addedthat the troopers are already trained and prepared for the job theyare asked to do.

The cost savings would be the difference between time and a halfpay for overtime versus the costs of training and equipment a newtrooper. Also, to avoid layoffs, Crawford said overtime could beexpanded or contracted depending the economic conditions of thetime.

One area that has not been impacted by the staff or militarycall-ups locally is driver’s license services, Crawford said. Thoseservices are under the direction of a state trooper and staffed bycivilians.

“We do not, in District 9, have any civilian employees who havebeen called,” Crawford said.

Driver’s license services in Meadville were closed recently dueto a lack of participation, said Master Sgt. Kyle Breeland,district director. MHP officials determined that it was not toomuch of an inconvenience from Franklin County residents to travelto Brookhaven or Natchez.

Crawford added that the Meadville was only offered once everytwo weeks. He said a traveling driver’s license team still goes toWoodville, Tylertown, Liberty and Monticello two days a month ateach location.

Driver’s license services in Brookhaven, McComb and Natchez areoffered Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, Crawfordsaid.