Driving the nighttime backroads of Arizona can be dangerous and lonely for a Department of Public Safety Trooper.
It is hard to recruit citizens to join our department because of the dangers that exist. For 14 years, I have been a Trooper along the interstates and state highways of this beautiful state. In my assignments through the state, I have heard the voices of my co-workers always trying find the next overtime time job, just to support their family. Seeing the tired faces of dispatchers having to work another double shift, not having the quality of life they all deserve with their family and friends.
DPS faces a shortage. Low pay compared to other law enforcement agencies around the state makes it harder to attract new troopers.
In 2019, nearly 400 people left DPS, including almost 200 troopers. Some retired and some went to other law enforcement agencies. No matter the reason, DPS could not replace either sworn or civilian positions as fast as employees were leaving.
As of this year, DPS counts nearly 270 vacancies among the sworn troopers with another 200 civilian positions unfilled. According to the most recent pay survey, troopers are about 15 percent behind their peers while civilians lag behind their peers by 18 percent.
In this good economy when potential employees have many options, both in law enforcement and the private sector, the uncompetitive wages offered by DPS make the state’s highway patrol organization a tough sell.
To be sure, the governor’s budget proposal makes significant and needed investments in DPS. For instance, Gov. Doug Ducey wants to purchase two new helicopters and add money to replace helicopters every two years, add new vehicles and fully fund overtime. Most critically, the governor begins a three-year update to the statewide radio network.
The House and the Senate have each recognized the pay disparity for these state employees and have moved in their respective budget proposals to close the gap. But to attract more troopers and civilian employees, DPS must offer a more competitive pay package.
We hope to persuade lawmakers who are writing the budget now to pass a 10 percent pay raise for both sworn and civilian DPS employees. This is the most important thing the Legislature and the governor can do to increase our ranks and add to public safety.
On those dark nights patrolling rural areas of this state, troopers often find themselves far from any backup. That’s in large part because of the considerable amount of vacancies among our ranks. Increasing pay will help the department attract more and better qualified recruits. More troopers on the road helps ensure better public safety – for our fellow troopers and the citizens we are sworn to protect.
The Legislature and Ducey can play a big hand in this effort. By increasing pay 10 percent as we recommend, our Arizona highways can be a safer place for motorists and troopers. This investment in Arizona’s Troopers and its civilian team members is a huge move towards making DPS whole.
Jeff Hawkins is president of the Arizona Troopers’ Association.