- Associated Press - Saturday, November 26, 2016

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi Highway Patrol is stretched to have enough troopers on the road, despite an effort to increase visibility during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Patrol staffing is close to an all-time low, The Clarion-Ledger reported (https://on.thec-l.com/2fkU19p ). Forty-eight people graduated from trooper school in 2015, but authorities say 66 troopers have left since then. About 150 more could retire, if they wanted.

State law says the Highway Patrol can have 650 sworn officers. It now has roughly 440, including those in the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, driver services and officers at headquarters. That leaves about 300 troopers in the nine districts. Each district has a captain, a lieutenant and four master sergeants, and the road troopers work shifts.

Stress and salaries are two big challenges.

The Highway Patrol is responsible for enforcement on 10,900 miles of roads in the state - and in some areas, troopers are noticeably in short supply. In the Brookhaven District, for example, 10 troopers cover the roads in nine counties. Patrol spokesman Johnny Poulos said an increasing number of wrecks and injuries on highways and interstates is a result of short staffing.

In 2015 to date, the Mississippi Highway Patrol had investigated 10,948 crashes, with 3,260 involving injuries. In the same time period this year, there have been 11,615 crashes, with 3,511 involving injuries. There were 5,373 people injured in the Highway Patrol’s area to date in 2015, and in 2016 that number has jumped to 5,721.

Mississippi legislators in 2015 approved troopers’ raises and set steps to increase pay every four years. In recent years, the state has lost three troopers to federal agencies and five to the Texas Department of Public Safety, where the pay is higher.

A trooper with four years’ experience in Texas makes $89,264, while a Mississippi trooper with four years’ experience makes $41,000. A trainee in Mississippi makes $16,100 a year, to be bumped up to roughly $38,000 upon graduation. According to the 2015 pay scale, a Mississippi trooper doesn’t top $50,000 until hitting the rank of staff sergeant with 16 years on the force.

In Texas, a Trainee starts at $55,481, and upon commission makes $60,613. After successful completing a year of field training, a trooper makes $73,208 per year.

Poulos said every year the Department of Public Safety takes hundreds of calls from people asking if there will be a trooper school and how to apply. He said states like Texas and Florida actively recruit not only prospects but also experienced officers in Mississippi.

“You have an MHP booth set up at a job fair, and then you have Florida Highway Patrol set up right next to us,” Poulos said. “Or while we’re trying to acquire numbers, you’ve got other agencies that know the reputation of the Mississippi Highway Patrol and our training, and that’s the troopers that they want in their agencies. Unfortunately, they’re being successful in getting them.”

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