As federal and state tax money flows in Arizona, our leaders made long-overdue investments in the state’s public safety agencies.
At the Department of Public Safety, troopers and civilian employees won a much-needed 10% pay raise. The money is a very good start to reaching parity with other law enforcement agencies in the state. Our ranks are so thin that the only way troopers cover the new portion of the Loop 202 in south Phoenix is through overtime.
Despite adding 1,300 miles of state highway since the 1990s, DPS added no more trooper positions. On top of that, DPS has about 270 vacancies among its sworn staff with another 180 eligible for retirement. Many are hoping the 10% pay raise will stanch the exodus of troopers. In this time of “Defund the Police” rhetoric, Arizona leaders stepped up in a measurable way to bolster the ranks of the Highway Patrol.
Arizona didn’t suffer the tax hit like other states. While some economic activities were shut down, Gov. Doug Ducey left much of the state open for business, helping to ensure a continued strong economy.
Coupled with an infusion of federal money, DPS and other law enforcement agencies did well in the budget passed by Republicans and signed by Ducey.
In addition to the pay raise, DPS received $250,000 to add canines. DPS had to retire many of our specially trained dogs because of the marijuana legalization initiative passed by voters. Our dogs could not simply be retrained. Instead, the department is purchasing new dogs to help our troopers patrol the state’s highways. But adding the animals is only a part of the cost. The DPS canine training facility is in dire need of rehab.
Our facility in Casa Grande lacks important shade structures that makes training in the summer nearly impossible. Shade and cooling equipment are desperately needed. The department needs a little over $1 million to make the training facility safer for trainers, dog handlers and the dogs.
The Legislature approved $3 million each for active shooter equipment and to improve our training facility.
Left out of the budget, however, was about $11 million needed to replace an older helicopter used in rescues. The 1990s era aircraft served its purpose, but technology upgrades in the past three decades makes this helicopter obsolete. For instance, if the helicopter is used for a night rescue of a stranded or injured hiker, a medical professional can be lowered to the scene. However, the rescue cannot occur until daylight hours. Newer helicopters give rescuers the ability to treat a patient and airlift them to safety no matter the time of day.
And while we hope to hire new troopers in the coming months, one area legislators left unfunded was a relatively small appropriation of about $500,000 to house recruits during training. The state no longer pays for housing of those going through the training program. With recruits coming from all over the state, asking them to pay for two households is not reasonable. One cadet even was forced to sell blood to help pay expenses. That’s not how we want to treat the people volunteering for state service. Next year, we will ask state leaders to cover this small expense.
The 2021-22 budget makes important investments in Arizona’s public safety community and we are grateful to the legislators and governor who supported new money to keep the state’s highways safe.
Next year, we will continue to ask the governor and legislators for small investments to ensure the public is protected adequately by troopers around Arizona.
Jeff Hawkins is president of the Arizona Troopers Union.