Lack of state troopers on I-77 linked to greater pay problem

This week you've heard viewers say they don't feel safe on Interstate 77 and want to see more law enforcement on the road. FOX 46 Charlotte looked into it and uncovered a much bigger problem that impacts the entire state. 

"I drive it every day to bring my kid to school. I drive from Huntersville to Mooresville twice a day and I don't feel safe. I don't feel like there's any police presence," said Grace from Huntersville.

She reached out to FOX 46 Charlotte to get results. She scratched the surface of what we discovered to be a much bigger safety issue on our highways.

"The chances of you seeing us out here are going to be less due to the fact that there are fewer troopers out here enforcing the laws and answering calls for service," said Trooper Ray Pierce with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.

It's been 17 years since the General Assembly added state trooper positions. Not only that, but lawmakers actually eliminated 35 vacant trooper positions in 2014. This information came from senators Tarte and Waddell's offices.

"Traffic has increased, the amount of vehicles on this roadway has increased, but unfortunately funding for more troopers has not been there," said Pierce. 

But they can't even fill what they do have. Right now, Trooper Pierce said there are 134 vacant trooper positions. He says troopers aren't getting paid enough to stick around.

"We've lost a lot of good troopers over the years that have gone to other agencies in search for a better paying job."

Lawmakers froze the five percent yearly pay raise troopers were supposed to get from 2009 to 2014, according to Senators Waddell and Tarte’s offices. Which means, for a trooper just starting out, they lost more than $10,000 during that five-year period.

"This is asking a lot of someone for $37,000 a year. Work every holiday, work every other weekend night shift, you're asking a lot when they can go somewhere else and make that or more," said Pierce.

We reached out to all state lawmakers for Mecklenburg County about this serious funding issue.
Many claimed no budget cuts to highway patrol. But four out of five agreed there is a problem.

"We need to start hiring, but that comes with fair compensation. That's absolutely a priority. The same thing with prison guards. We see the problem that's there. It's lack of proper staffing and salaries. We see it with assistant district attorneys. Understaffed and underpaid. But it's finite resources and unlimited needs," said Senator Jeff Tarte of Cornelius.

"When we come back in session, i will be working for funding for our public safety agencies, for our people who work every day as highway patrolmen to keep our community safe," said Senator Joyce Waddell of Charlotte. 

Thanks to the viewer who reached out we've been able to bring this issue to the forefront for our state lawmakers. However, they won't be able to talk about big pay raises for troopers until the next budget cycle which isn't until 2019.