Virginia State Police experiencing trooper shortage

- Some Virginia State Troopers are leaving the agency to seek better paying employment in other departments. Applications to join the state police have fallen 48.5 percent since February, according to Col. W. Steven Flaherty, the agency’s superintendent.

The agency’s starting salary of $36,207 for troopers is among the lower police employment wages in Virginia.

The superintendent for the state police issued a letter this week saying he hears their concerns and is working with the governor and legislators to help fix the issue.

Flaherty used words like dire and serious consequences when referring to the pay issue for his department. FOX 5 spoke to one state trooper on Tuesday who told us he works in the Arlington area but can't afford to live here so he drives from his home in Manassas - he says he's been loyal to the state police but because of the pay he's thinking about moving to another agency.

The state police superintendent sent this email to employees late last week saying he's heard the frustration about pay:

Over the past several weeks, many employees have voiced concern and frustration about the state of the budget and the fact that the salary adjustments scheduled to take place November 10, 2016, have been withdrawn.  While I share your concern and frustration on these matters, there is a great deal of misinformation that needs attention as well.

As you know, funding for 3% salary increases was awarded by the 2016 General Assembly.  In addition, the General Assembly appropriated funding to assist the agency with partially addressing pay compression for both sworn and civilian personnel.  Unfortunately, this funding was contingent upon general fund revenues meeting forecasted expectations.  In August, the Governor announced that because of revenue shortfalls there was no funding for pay raises.

The General Assembly/Governor did not allocate funding to provide executive members of this agency with pay raises.  Furthermore, there seems to be some confusion over salary language in the 2016 Appropriations Act pertaining to executive branch agency heads/directors receiving a pay raise. The language retroactively addresses a 2014 pay increase afforded to all executive agency heads by then-incoming Governor McAuliffe.  Since that time I have not received any additional salary increases other than what has been afforded to all state employees.

The entire Executive Staff wants to assure you that we are doing everything possible to convey our dire circumstances to Governor McAuliffe, Secretary Moran, and every state legislator, who is willing to listen.  We are very aware of how difficult and challenging these setbacks are to you and your families and we are actively communicating with all stakeholders.  In recent weeks, the Executive Staff and I have had discussions with General Assembly members and the Governor’s staff to address your compensation, the increased demands on your workload, and our ability to retain our highly trained, professional dedicated workforce. 

We know that you have been asked to do more with less for too long and the resulting consequences are a stark reality being experienced across every section of the Department:

•In the first nine months of this year, 103 sworn employees and 121 civilian employees have left the Department. The majority of those leaving are doing so to seek better-paying employment in other local, state and federal agencies.  Since the Governor’s announcement regarding revenue shortfalls, resignations among both sworn and civilian staff have escalated.

•There are currently 116 sworn vacancies in the field.  Due to looming budget cuts, being asked of all executive branch agencies, we may be required to delay the 126th Basic Session, which is scheduled to begin in March 2017.

•Since February 2016, the Department has experienced a 48.5% decrease in trooper applications.  Although, this decrease in applications is a nationwide trend, the Department’s ability to recruit is further exasperated by our poor salaries and our inability to compete with starting law enforcement salaries across the Commonwealth.

I wish there was a quick and simple solution to resolve these very serious circumstances.  The Executive Staff and I will continue to push forward in addressing these very important topics, but we need your assistance, as well.  Communication is essential, and we encourage our sworn and civilian personnel to contact your state senators and delegates.  Share your stories; tell them about your situation and make them aware of the effects of these decisions.  Let them know that these decisions not only impact State Police personnel and their families, but they negatively impact our ability to provide adequate service to the citizens and visitors of the Commonwealth.

As always, I sincerely appreciate all that each of you do to make a difference for this Department and the Commonwealth as a whole.  I know these coming months will be extremely busy for us all.  Please stay safe and know that we are all in this together and we will work collectively to resolve this.

On Tuesday afternoon, FOX 5 spoke with Former State Police Superintendent Wayne Huggins, he currently represents the Police Association. “If you compare us with most major law enforcement agencies in Virginia, in Northern Virginia and the Richmond area and in tidewater you'll see that we are generally the lowest starting agency that there is and so we have become nothing more than a recruiting/training grounds for the law enforcement agencies, particularly the local law enforcement agencies,” Huggins said over the phone.

FOX 5 REACHED OUT TO GOVERNOR MCAULIFFE'S OFFICE AND HIS OFFICE RELEASED A STATEMENT SAYING:

"Governor McAuliffe is committed to hiring and training the highly skilled law enforcement officers that Virginia needs to ensure our communities are safe. The two-year budget plan he submitted in December included $2.8 million and 20 new positions over two years to strengthen the Virginia State Police’s cyber-crime investigation capabilities, as well as investigations of child exploitation and abductions. State lawmakers reduced that amount by $700,000. The Governor won bipartisan support for an additional $650,000 investment for cyber initiatives at the Virginia Fusion Center. He also secured legislative support for his plan to invest nearly $4.3 million for the Blackstone training facility, including 18 new positions necessary to provide driver safety and firearms training. And the Governor won support for a proposal authorizing the State Police to charge a fee to other law enforcement agencies that use the facility to cover maintenance costs."

The final Appropriations Act this year tied funding for pay increases to state revenues, and tax collections fell short of the necessary trigger at the end of the last fiscal year. Governor McAuliffe is disappointed, and he shares the frustration felt by state troopers and other state employees. He continues to make public employee compensation and public safety his priorities as he moves forward with budget decisions this fall."

The superintendent urges some of the state troopers for them to contact local leaders, state leaders to tell them how bad it is. He says he'll be working to do that as well.

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