RICHMOND (AP) Severe personnel shortages, low pay and salary inequities are undermining the Department of State Police’s ability to hire and retain qualified officers, a study says.
The study was researched and written by the Virginia State Police Association, which represents the agency’s 2,000 rank-and-file troopers and other employees, and operates independently of the department and its leadership.
The association believes pay and manpower problems can be traced to the mid-1970s, when state leaders decided to no longer fund the department through Virginia’s Highway Trust Fund.
Up until that time, the department was “specially funded,” much like the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Virginia Department of Transportation, association President Mike Berry said in a letter accompanying the study.
Those agencies receive a significant portion of their funding through user fees, special taxes and other self-generating revenue.
The state police are financed entirely through the state’s general fund, administered by Virginia’s General Assembly.
The association is recommending, among other things, that Virginia return to an independent and dedicated source of money for all state police operations.
“I agree that all those issues need a lot of attention,” State Police Superintendent Col. Gerald Massengill told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “These issues are nothing that’s new; they’ve been around for a decade or more. And I think it’s time for the department rather than just talk about these issues to come up with a plan to address them.”
Col. Massengill said he has appointed an internal committee to further examine the issues and develop a plan to remedy them.
The association found that:
Some veteran state troopers are making less money than troopers with less seniority. In one case, a trooper with nine years of service was making $34,910, or $786 less than a trooper with five years’ experience. “The pay inequities come from years of no pay raises [pay freezes], no cost-of-living increases and a sporadic pay-for-performance merit system,” the report says.
Some troopers with 10 years of service are making only $800 a year more than a trooper with five years’ experience. “When you get into the supervisory ranks the problem is actually worse due to the years of service many supervisors have,” the report says. “We have many sergeants making less than the troopers they supervise.”
A rookie Maryland state trooper earns nearly as much as a Virginia trooper with five years’ experience. Maryland and North Carolina pay their rookie officers $6,447 and $1,862 more, respectively, than Virginia.
Virginia troopers and special agents eligible for career progression cannot advance because of a state-mandated limit on the number of promotions.
A staffing study conducted by the department shows a need for 750 new trooper positions. Many areas of the state have fewer troopers now than they did 20 years ago, the report says.
During each of the past two years, more than 3 percent of the department’s 1,900 officers have left for other jobs or were terminated. The 63 officers who left last year, excluding retirees, were the equivalent of one academy class of recruits.
“Each year, soon after their graduation from the academy, we lose a number of troopers to other law enforcement agencies that can offer better pay, retirement and other benefits,” the report says. “Our department is becoming a training ground for other agencies.”
In the most recent academy class, one trooper resigned the day he graduated after being offered a job with the U.S. Secret Service.