(USA Today) - The number of highway patrol officers has shrunk in a dozen states in the past 13 years and failed to keep pace with population gains in others, leaving stretches of highways unpatrolled during late-night and early-morning hours, a USA TODAY analysis of federal and state data finds.
The shortages, which come as states battle billions of dollars in budget gaps, have forced places such as Oregon to cut down on 24-hour patrolling. Other states, such as Michigan, also have limited how many miles a trooper can drive per day.
"Every governor wants to tell everybody in the world, 'I'm cutting the size of state government,' " says Maine State Police Sgt. Mike Edes, chairman of the National Troopers Coalition, which represents about 45,000 state troopers. "What's hurt us and what's hurt a lot of state patrols is this rural sprawl. People are moving to the country... most of those places in the country don't have their own police departments."
To get federal highway funds, states must assign some troopers duties such as truck safety and weigh stations, says Sheldon Greenberg of the Division of Public Safety Leadership at Johns Hopkins University. "They're not having troopers to do basic patrol work," he says.
Greenberg says repeated cutbacks have some agencies at a breaking point. "Police agencies are digging themselves into a hole that will be very hard to get out of if it continues for too many years," he says.
Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, South Carolina and South Dakota have smaller state patrols than they did in 1995. Details:
• Michigan, which cut its state police force more than 15% from 1995 to 2008, a period when the population grew more than 5%, laid off 100 more troopers in June as it faces a potential $1.4 billion budget shortfall next year. The state is re-hiring 55 troopers. "We're past the point of being able to do more with less," says state police spokeswoman Shanon Banner.
• Oregon's state police force was cut by more than 30% since 1995 while the population swelled more than 22%, forcing elimination of 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week patrols. Public outcry recently led to a budget grant for more troopers, says Lt. Gregg Hastings of the Oregon State Police.
Incremental increases are likely in some states: "When there is a crisis, when the state police can't get there in time to save somebody, they'll ... add a few people here and there," Edes says.
By Larry Copeland