By Darin Snedden
In 1935, 50 patrol officers of the newly formed Iowa Highway Safety Patrol started their first day of service to Iowans. Since then, more than 1,584 Iowa State Troopers have driven millions of miles, answered thousands of emergency calls and dedicated their lives to increasing safety on our roadways.
That tradition of service now is in jeopardy because of two related factors: the diminishing numbers of troopers on the road and their increased and ever-changing workload.
As the state tightened its fiscal belt, every department of state government was asked to do more with less. The Iowa State Patrol was no different. Our leadership has performed a delicate balancing act trying to achieve efficiency from each trooper while not allowing staffing to drop to a level that jeopardizes public safety.
In 2011, troopers logged almost 19 million miles, up 3.5 million miles from 2010. Each trooper logged an additional 5,600 miles in the normal course of duty. The number of vehicles stopped for safety and criminal violations also increased to a record 240,341, and arrests topped 157,480.
We have indeed achieved a record level of productivity and service from a declining number of troopers. Since 2000, the number of troopers patrolling Iowa’s roadways has fallen from 455 to 357. That’s almost 100 fewer troopers responding to emergency calls, serious accidents, natural emergencies and criminal and drug interdiction.
Tempering these successes, however, are several points that concern every trooper. The time it takes to respond quickly to serious accidents or violent threats is increasing as our numbers decline and the distance they travel increases. The time it takes for troopers to respond to “interagency” requests, those that come from other law enforcement agencies on the county and local level, also is increasing.
Compounding these factors is an ever-changing mission of a trooper. The nature of the calls troopers receive have an icreasing level of potential violence associated with them, from serious domestic confrontations to armed bank robberies. A quick and timely response can help diffuse these dangerous situations and lead to a less violent resolution.
In 2011, many Iowa legislators recognized this emerging problem and identified a plan to begin to replace Trooper strength. The Iowa House supported a process of rebuilding the patrol to reach trooper strength levels in 2000. Unfortunately, that plan was not implemented, and the problem has grown more pressing.
Department of Public Safety Commissioner Brian London and his staff have been working with the Iowa State Patrol to find the correct and appropriate staffing levels. His support, and the support of the governor and state legislators, is a vital piece of trooper morale and safety every day they don the uniform and drive into harm’s way.
The Iowa State Patrol is rooted in its tradition of service to all Iowans. Since 1935, the commitment of every trooper who has worn the uniform has never wavered. By making public safety a top budget priority in the 2013 legislative session, the Iowa Legislature will mirror that tradition of service of protecting Iowan’s safety.
l Darin Snedden of Mount Vernon is president of the Iowa State Troopers Association. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org