State trooper

State Trooper Matthew Orman returns to his vehicle after getting paperwork sorted at the Calhoun County Courthouse. (Kirsten Fiscus / The Anniston Star)

In Connecticut, a proposed state budget would slash $4 million from overtime pay for state troopers, who already are 240 hires shy of being fully staffed.

In Oregon, the state police have asked lawmakers for $64 million to roughly double the number of officers on that state’s roads by 2030.

In Georgia, the State Patrol shortage is both chronic and severe. Two years ago, Georgia had 600 officers -- 350 fewer than it needs. Last month, the GSP remained roughly 150 officers short of full staff because of retirements and a dearth of qualified applicants.

Alabama’s state trooper shortage is just as chronic and just as severe. It isn’t an outlier. Who knew? Still, it’s not too much to ask for the state Legislature to craft a General Fund budget that would allow the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to staff each of our 67 counties with around-the-clock trooper coverage.

That’s neither a waste of taxpayers’ dollars nor an unreasonable request. Isn’t public safety worth the money?

Yes is the correct response.

Gov. Kay Ivey, it would seem, agrees with that stance. Her budget proposal sent to the state Legislature asks lawmakers to fund 50 additional state troopers. That request is both modest and justified. In fact, we wish she’d been more aggressive with her request. The need is obvious.

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, Alabama hired no state troopers between late 2010 and the end of 2014, David Steward, president of the Alabama State Trooper Association, wrote last year in the Dothan Eagle. Today, ALEA says it has 370 state troopers -- hardly enough to cover the entire state 24 hours a day. It’s not unusual for individual troopers to cover multiple counties on a single shift.

In comments to Alabama Political Reporter, ALEA Secretary Hal Taylor has said his goal is to have 670 troopers patrolling the state’s roads and highways. And that’s still below the 1,000 troopers Alabama should employ based on its geographic size and population, according to data from the Center for Advanced Public Safety at the University of Alabama.

We’re not naive to the fiscal cost of this request. Ivey has already called legislators into a special session to consider raising the state’s gasoline tax to pay for road and bridge repairs. Lawmakers this spring will also consider paying hundreds of millions for new prisons and worthwhile expenses such as state employee raises and pre-K programs and higher education. No one said budget-writing was for the faint of heart.

The underlying headline is that Alabama’s trooper shortage is another example of the negative byproducts that snowball when legislatures habitually slash funding for state necessities. Eventually, those bills have to be paid. For Alabama, that time has arrived.

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