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February 27, 2014 11:09:40 AM
Troopers with the Mississippi Highway Patrol converged on the state capitol Wednesday for "Blue Out" day.
The troopers were asking state legislators for more funding, including funding for a new trooper school that would allow for additional troopers to be added to the current 501 active troopers. The state has not had a trooper school since 2011.
In a letter to legislators, troopers pleaded for a new school, pay raises and new equipment.
"We realize that our salaries with respect to years of service, when compared to other state's troopers, and even when compared to other law enforcement agencies within our own state, is poor, embarrassing and not respectable," the letter stated. "We eventually realize that we must secure a second job in order to provide for our families. That second job often pays more per hour, with comparable benefits, than the job for which we have a passion, being a MS State Trooper... We realize that the bullet-proof vest that was issued to us... is past its shelf life and we will 'just have to make do' until we are approved funds to purchase new ones."
The letter closed by saying, "Is it not the general public that really suffers??? Yes, troopers and their families are hurting, but the public ultimately pays the price."
Of the 501 active troopers in the state, only 288 are considered "road troopers," or troopers who patrol highways.
Sergeant Criss M. Turnipseed, public affairs specialist with the Mississippi Highway Patrol in Starkville, said his department is working with a "skeleton crew" and out-of-date equipment.
"We are attempting to keep Mississippi motorists safe with pretty much a skeleton crew," Turnipseed said. "Our citizens deserve the best when it comes to their protection and our troopers deserve the help they need so that they can be safe doing a dangerous job."
Turnipseed noted that although there are 288 road troopers, only 150 are covering the state's 82 counties at any given time.
"Of the 288 road troopers available for patrol you have take in account their days off," he said.
In the last two years, the legislature has allocated $461,442 for trooper pay raises in the current budget year, supported a special fund dedicated to purchasing equipment, such as bulletproof vests, and the highway patrol retirement fund as well as funded the Mississippi Highway Patrol at record levels in the current budget year with a $2.7 million increase in the agency's $50 million general fund appropriation, according to a press release issued by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves.
Reeves conceded that the state "has more good ideas than we have money.
"There are raise requests from sheriffs, tax collectors, county supervisors and teachers plus a trooper school, and other worthy projects from agencies," Reeves said. "We have a lot more good ideas than we have money. You will see Senate and House leadership sit down in a few weeks to look at what taxpayers can afford and what best meets the needs of the state."
The release explained budget negotiations will begin in mid-March. Law enforcement budgetary requests will be considered then.
"Last week, the Senate took the first step in the budget process by funding agency budgets, including the Department of Public Safety, at levels recommended by the House and Senate Joint Legislative Budget Committee," the release said. "Specific requests for new programs from state agencies will be considered if state revenue expectations grow for the next fiscal year. Budget negotiations begin in mid-March after the state's revenue estimating committee meets to consider next year's fiscal outlook."
Turnipseed said his agency needs help now, not later.
"It's apparent that not everyone understands the rigors and stress our department is currently under," he said. "A trooper school every three to four years isn't going to help any. If people could walk a mile in a trooper's boots they would understand we need support now not later."
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.
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