Salary lag blamed for trooper shortage

A wave of departures from the State Police in the last nine months has left the agency short of troopers available for road duty.

The cancellation of a scheduled 3-percent pay raise received some of the blame in a recent memo to State Police employees by the head of the agency, Col. W. Steven Flaherty.

Flaherty’s memo, dated Sept. 16, describes a dire situation since the beginning of 2016, a period when 103 uniformed and 76 civilian employees left.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced in August that revenue flow that fell short of expectations was forcing him to cancel the pay raises.

“Since the governor’s announcement regarding revenue shortfalls, resignations among both sworn and civilian staff have escalated,” Flaherty wrote.

The effects of the exodus are being felt around the state, including the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

Data from the State Police show the number of full-time troopers available for patrol in area 13 – Clarke, Frederick and Warren counties and the Interstate 81 scales – stands at 21, 13 fewer than the authorized level of 34. The number includes seven officially classified vacancies, plus two people on sick leave and four trained dogs that spend much time in training.

Area 14, which includes Page and Shenandoah counties, is assigned 18 trooper positions, two of which are vacant.

Job applications to the State Police have dropped 48 ½ percent since February, a trend that Flaherty blamed on his agency’s inability to offer salaries comparable to those available at other local, state and federal agencies. The starting salary for troopers is $36,207 annually.

Wayne Huggins, executive director of the Virginia State Police Association, said the staffing shortage has led to soaring overtime hours as troopers are assigned to cover short staffed areas.

The demands of the job are also growing.

Huggins cited as an example a chase from Charlottesville to Richmond last week in which the suspect turned out to be someone on the terrorist watch list.

“A lot of our resources are being devoted to the domestic preparedness issue,” Huggins said, adding that a growing population, an expanding road network and more miles traveled per motorist are also straining the workforce.

“The workload just continues to increase, and yet our resources continue to decline,” Huggins said. “Being asked to do more with less has never been truer.”

Huggins said the State Police needs a dedicated source of revenue that would free the agency of the year-to-year inconsistencies associated with its current dependence on the general fund. The general revenue fund also puts the State Police in competition with other state agencies, which is another factor that tends to make pay raises unpredictable and erratic.

Huggins said a proposal from past legislative sessions that would add $1.25 each year for 10 years to vehicle registration fees could be an alternative to the general fund.

“It isn’t just a matter of throwing money at the problem,” Huggins said. “What has to happen to address the problem and create a solution is a permanent dedicated revenue source that is not dependent on the ups and downs of the economy or whatever the political issue (of the moment) is.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com.