- Associated Press - Monday, January 16, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi faces a critical shortage of state troopers, according to state officials.

The Clarion-Ledger (https://on.thec-l.com/2iu9tlr ) reports that only 489 of the 650 state trooper positions allowed by state law are filled. Of those positions, 328 are assigned to the road. And nearly 150 troopers are eligible for retirement.

“It’s troubling. We’re almost at the point of declaring a disaster because we’re short on troopers,” said Gov. Phil Bryant told the newspaper. “If we can’t get more troopers on the road we’re going to lose lives. People’s very lives depend upon having more troopers on that road.”

Bryant said he plans to ask lawmakers to approve another trooper school to get more law enforcement officers on the road.

“And the criminal activity on the highway isn’t limited just to dangerous driving. There’s all sorts of threats that happen there and it just simply is a matter of putting more troopers on the road to be able to deter that and to save lives,” Bryant continued. “A lot depends on how many troopers you visibly have on the roadways. When they see that patrol car, what’s the first thing everyone does? We slow down.”

Sixty-six troopers have left the force since the last trooper school in 2015

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Albert Santa Cruz says at least five of those have gone to Texas where trooper salaries are significantly higher.

The newspaper reported that a trooper with four years’ experience in Texas makes $89,264. A Mississippi trooper with four years’ experience makes $41,000.

“We’re so shorthanded right now it’s unreal. The only thing that’s saved us this past year is no hurricanes in the Gulf, no major tornadoes, no floods, but that little ice storm we just had showed us where we are,” said Santa Cruz, who is retiring himself next month.

Santa Cruz told the newspaper that at least once weekly someone will tell him the same story.

“I drove all the way from the Coast to the Tennessee line and I didn’t see a single trooper.”

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