Trooper Shortage

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Over the past two years the number of fatal accidents in east Mississippi has been on the rise. So far this year, at least 30 people have been killed on local state roads, 14 of those deaths happened last month alone.

While lagging seat belt usage is at least partially to blame, Highway Patrol officials say other major cause is the lack of troopers on state roadways. Over the last 30 years, Sgt. Ronnie Carter with Troop H out of Meridian says the number of troopers on the road has decreased by almost a third.

"On one given day you, possibly in the nine-county Highway Patrol district, may have three men, three enforcement troopers working these nine counties."

Carter says this shortage is caused by several things including retirement, deployment, special assignments and trooper schools not being held within the state due to lack of funding.

"Of course, now you have a number of other places where money is going as far as homeland security, these kind of things," says Carter.

We'll have sometimes $500, $600, sometimes as much as $900 million more in requests than we have money, so we have to sift through all those requests, take recommendations from our staff and then make a decision based on the need for the funds available," says state Senator Terry Burton, who is a member of the Legislative Appropriations Committee.

The good news, Senator Burton says this year the state has been able to come up with enough money to fund a trooper school. The bad news, Sgt. Carter says even that graduating class might not be enough.

"In the state of Mississippi," says Carter, "you have nine enforcement districts, and if you have a Highway Patrol school that graduates 50 troopers, you're going to have somewhere in the neighborhood of five troopers going to each district, so one school when it's completed it helps but it's not really a noticeable difference in manpower."

"We have a little more money to work with this year," says Senator Burton. "So, we're ready to go to work and try to fund some of these parts of government hopefully enough that we can start catching up from years past."

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