- Associated Press - Thursday, January 22, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - A declining number of Kansas Highway Patrol troopers has led to a corresponding drop in tickets and drunken-driving arrests, raising concerns about safety on the state’s highways.

The number of troopers has dropped 16 percent since 2008, leaving 409 officers responsible for more than 10,000 miles of Kansas highways. During those years, the number of drunken-driving arrests declined 51 percent and troopers wrote 31 percent fewer tickets, The Kansas City Star reported (https://bit.ly/1BKNadJ ).

Patrol officials said it can’t recruit new troopers fast enough to replace those who are leaving.

“We are extremely short across the state,” said Mitch Mellick, a master trooper and president of the Kansas State Troopers Association.

The lack of troopers makes the state’s highways more dangerous, safety advocates contend.

“It is hugely disturbing that the numbers are down so much,” said Chris Mann, chairman of the advisory board for Kansas Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “Reducing the number of troopers will obviously make it difficult to apprehend those people committing DUIs.”

Highway Patrol Maj. John Eichkorn said the jobs are not being left open to save the state money. Kansas is facing a $700 million budget deficit.

The patrol has seen applications drop from about 1,400 in 1988 to 267 last year and rigorous screening allows only a few of the applicants to join the agency. Out of last year’s applicants, only six graduated from training in December. A full-time recruiter has been hired and the patrol has a new pool of 403 applicants.

“We are finding fewer and fewer individuals who want to become law enforcement officers,” Eichkorn said.

Low pay is part of the problem, with a starting salary of $42,702 annually, which increases to $49,462 after five years. Any further pay increases must be approved the Legislature, which allowed a 5 percent bump for troopers in 2012. There are no planned increases in the state budget for the next two fiscal years.

State Rep. Melissa Rooker, a Republican from Farirway who is on the public safety budget committee, said it’s unlikely raises will be forthcoming during the current budget crunch.

“We’re dealing with such a fiscal nightmare,” she said. “The prevailing wisdom among House leadership is we’ve got to continue cutting the state budget. Where in that outlook is there room to address an issue like this?”


Information from: The Kansas City Star, https://www.kcstar.com

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