Virginia’s state police expected an influx of money from the new state budget. Instead, they learned this summer that a shortfall would quash promised raises for all state employees and doom an effort to give experienced officers an additional pay boost. The week the deficit became public, 11 Virginia troopers and civilians quit, Stateline reports. “Many of our people have just kind of thrown their hands up and said, ‘Listen, I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to take care of my family and if you’re not going to help me do it, then I’m going to go elsewhere,’ ” said Wayne Huggins, who heads the Virginia State Police Association.
It’s a problem that state police departments are facing across the nation. A combination of low pay, baby-boom retirements and recruitment troubles has left state police departments short of manpower. Fewer troopers puts public safety at risk because large swaths of highways go unpatrolled, and response times to crashes and other emergencies are growing longer, Huggins said. Beyond salaries, continuously tight budgets across many states can take a toll on troopers’ morale. Outdated equipment, the disappearance of fringe benefits like cellphone allowances, and the demand for overtime work in exchange for comp days that they may not have time to take have convinced many officers to head for the exits. Attracting replacements is increasingly difficult as recruits favor the many municipal police departments that pay more than the state does. Declining unemployment and rising police-community tensions could be partly to blame for fewer applicants, says Nelson Lim, a sociologist who analyzes recruitment, retention, diversity and other police personnel issues for the RAND Corp.