BIRMINGHAM, Ala. Jan 19 2018— As a winter storm system freezes over parts of Alabama this week, law enforcement officers across the state are working to keep roadways safe and clear.
For Alabama state troopers, winter weather events like Tuesday's highlight an ongoing personnel shortage, which leaders say is reaching "dangerously low" levels.
"There are less than 250 troopers to serve all of Alabama, even though recent studies suggest that over 1,000 troopers is the appropriate number for a state the size of Alabama," Alabama State Troopers Association President David Steward said. "At current staffing levels, there is one state trooper for every 214 square miles of Alabama."
Steward and ASTA Executive Director Neil Tew on Tuesday called on state legislators to increase funding for hiring at the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.
"It would be great to hire several hundred troopers right now. I don't know if we'll ever see 1,000 troopers," Steward said. "But right now we're at a critically low number."
According to data provided by ASTA, trooper staffing has dropped by 22 percent in four years. In the same time period, auto accidents have increased by 16 percent and fatalities have increased by 28 percent.
"We're short statewide," Steward said. "There's not an area in the state that has the manpower they need to sustain their patrol coverage."
As personnel numbers dip, Steward said, troopers are tasked with longer shifts across larger territories. With troopers traveling longer distances, their fleet is also feeling the wear and tear.
"As we see with the storm coming in today, many of these troopers are going to be working 12 to 16 hours before they get a break," Tew said. "And they're doing it in patrol cars that are 8 to 10 years old that could have upwards of 250,000 miles or more. It's a huge problem, and it's got a lot of tentacles to it."
A combination of budget cuts and staff attrition has atrophied trooper count over several years, leading to some situations where one trooper is responsible for swath of several counties.
Tew said the agency has lost more than 300 troopers in the last decade due to retirements, job changes and other reasons. In the same time period, less than 100 new troopers were hired.
"This is a problem that has been a long time coming," Tew said. "We've been constantly losing personnel, but we've rarely been in a position to hire personnel."
Gov. Kay Ivey has requested a $3.2 million increase in ALEA's General Fund appropriation to be used for a new class of 30 state troopers.
"It's a start," Tew said. "30 is something to build on. We're hoping it will be more the following year.