The Gazette Editorial Board
The modest bump in public safety spending included in Gov. Terry Branstadís $6.54 billion state budget proposal is a step in the right direction.
But while the governorís budget proposal may be enough to maintain the status quo, it wonít be enough to fund the kind of lean, yet more effective, State Patrol that our state needs.
Most of the governorís proposed 4.3 percent increase in state spending over the next fiscal year would go to education, human services, local property tax relief and economic growth ó all important.
But public safety is one of the stateís fundamental responsibilities to its residents, and it will take more than a $2 million increase to undo the damage to State Patrol staffing levels caused by years of rising costs and tight budgets.
As they fine-tune budget numbers, state legislators should work toward a more generous allocation to change that course.
In 2009, state patrol staffing reached a 46-year low. More recently, thanks to Legislative battles, the numbers have held more steady.
Even still, there are 100 fewer state troopers on Iowa roadways today than in 2000. Legislative efforts to recoup staffing losses and rebuild the patrol have failed.
Meanwhile, troopersí workload is increasing: State troopers in 2011 stopped a record number of vehicles, according to State Patrol Officers Council President Darin Snedden. In that year, troopers made nearly 157,500 arrests, according to Sneddenís figures. They logged nearly 19 million miles, an increase of 5,600 miles per trooper that year.
Itís critical the State Patrol be staffed at adequate levels. State patrol officers donít just enforce traffic laws on state roadways, they also provide tactical and technical support to local law enforcement agencies. They respond to natural disasters, help execute high-risk warrants, provide expert crash reconstruction assistance and high-profile security details, for a start.
Chronic underfunding negatively impacts trooper safety and morale. It increases trooper response times and degrades our public safety. Legislators should fund a budget that better fits the need.
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