CHARLOTTE, NC (FOX 46 WJZY) - FOX 46 Charlotte first broke the story about the trooper shortage in North Carolina. Now, a highway trooper's wife is reaching out with astonishing details of how troopers' and drivers' safety could be at risk.
The trooper’s wife wrote to our Caroline Fountain,
“You should investigate how many times we have state troopers covering ENTIRE counties by themselves. At times, our county are covered by a single trooper. It not only slows response time, or impacts coverage on highways but it is also a huge threat for officer safety.”
Residents may not think about a trooper shortage, frozen pay raises, or that the trooper could be the only one patrolling the entire county when we see blue lights on the highway. But that’s exactly what’s happening.
“There are at times where Troopers may be working alone throughout certain parts of the state,” said Sgt. Michael Baker, a spokesperson for the North Carolina State Highway Patrol in Raleigh.
He confirmed the startling tip we received from a Trooper’s wife that there could be just one patrol person covering an entire county at a time.
“We do have troopers across the state who work alone in different districts or counties in the state. We take that into account when we’re trying to increase the allotted numbers to those respective counties," he said.
But lawmakers haven’t added trooper positions since the turn of the century. In the meantime, the state’s population has grown by more than 2 million people. This puts more work on fewer troopers.
“We’re using this as a recruiting tool in the event that somebody wants to sign up for our agency they can. By watching your newscast, that puts the information out where we may not be able to," Sgt. Baker said.
Right now, he said there are nearly 150 vacant trooper positions across the state.
“We’re having a hard time finding qualified applicants to come to the Highway Patrol because they’re looking at specific things such as what our starting pay is, what our benefits are, what we can offer in a retirement package. We have to compete with other law enforcement agencies not only across the state but across the nation," Sgt. Baker said.
The starting salary for a trooper in North Carolina is $39,000 a year. It fits right in the middle compared to neighboring states and local law enforcement agencies.
Georgia and South Carolina start lower, while Mecklenburg County, CMPD and Virginia Highway Patrol are thousands of dollars higher.
Here's a look at the numbers:
- Georgia HP: $35,741
- South Carolina Trooper: $38,273
- North Carolina Trooper: $39,189
- Meck County Deputy Sheriff: $41,385
- CMPD: $43,492
- Virginia HP: $44,290
“We’re competing with Charlotte Mecklenburg here locally, with sheriff’s departments across the state that may be paying more. That’s something we take into account as to why we may have so many openings across the state," Sgt. Baker said.
But filling vacancies won’t be enough to keep one trooper from covering an entire county by his or herself. The trooper’s wife writes,
“It is common practice for our troopers to cover an entire county by themselves. My husband has done so MANY times. Our troop is full and we do not have any openings for troopers yet this continues to happen.”
“As far as what county a trooper is working alone in, that’s something I can’t provide,” Sgt. Baker said.
FOX 46 Charlotte will follow up with our state lawmakers who are the only ones who can take action to get results for a safer highway for both troopers and drivers.