The Florida Highway Patrol is working to address its current shortage of troopers throughout the state. Much of what they’re doing is aimed directly at the northwest region, which is one of the areas with the greatest need.
A series of recruitment videos is available on YouTube. The videos highlight the fast cars, motorcycles, military-style vehicles, and planes used for enforcement and show male and female troopers in action; making arrests, working traffic stops and wrecks, and firing off rounds during weapons training.
“Make your dream a reality,” commands the announcer. “Take action today and join the ranks of the Florida Highway Patrol. Apply on line at www.beatrooper.com.”
The recruitment videos were produced back in 2014 to address the rapid decline in the number of troopers statewide.
“During the last five years, we’ve had a massive out-flux of retirements within the Florida Highway Patrol and within state government as a whole,” said Lt. Eddie Elmore, is public information officer for the FHP’s Troop A, representing the Panama City and Pensacola districts.
Since 2010, FHP says it's lost almost 1,000 troopers to retirement or higher-paying agencies; 200 left in 2016.
“Right now, just locally, we’re about 40 percent down on our positions, about a 40 percent vacancy rate.”
You heard right, 40 percent! That means a whopping 24 of the 60 total trooper positions just in the Pensacola District are open.
The district includes Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties.
The shortage has resulted in increased response times locally. And, according to Lt. Elmore, the situation has also required FHP to do some shuffling in order to maintain a certain level of road patrol.
“In Panama City, just for example, we’ve started moving troopers over into Walton County,” Elmore said. “So once we moved those troopers into Walton, some of those already stationed in Walton County, we’re moving them into Okaloosa and Santa Rosa and shifting our forces back west as much as we can so that we can have good coverage across the northwest portion of the Panhandle.”
Along with Pensacola, the Fort Myers and Orlando districts are also facing extreme shortages in troopers.
To ensure that the neediest areas like these fill their positions first, FHP is shifting away from its practice of general assignment statewide toward an emphasis on recruiting, hiring and - when possible – allowing new troopers to work in their local area.
Elmore says the ability to stay home is especially important to older applicants in their 30’s and above. “They’ve already got houses established; they’ve already got kids in school. So, to uproot their entire family and say go down to Ft. Myers, what we found is that’s a significant undertaking for a family to go through. What we’ve found is that if we change that and we have those positions available, we’re gonna keep them right there.”
The issue of starting pay has also been a factor in Florida’s trooper shortage. Just last year, the base salary was raised from about $34,000 to $38,000, making it more competitive with other state and local law enforcement agencies.
In comparison, the starting salary at the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office is $34,902. It’s $35,006 at the Pensacola Police Department is $35,006 and $39,000 for new deputies at the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office.
And, as an incentive, base pay has been bumped to $43,000 for those who choose to work in certain counties, including Escambia.
“That’s because of the vacancy rates, around 40 percent here locally,” said Elmore, noting that Escambia County is a busy county. “So, the call volume, everything else they consider and they give about a $5,000 increase to live in Escambia County and to work Escambia County.”
To increase the ranks of the FHP locally and elsewhere, the agency is holding recruitment events or career fairs across the state. Sessions this week are set for Panama City on Thursday and at the Patrol’s Pensacola office on Stumpfield Rd. on Friday, each event to run from 3-6 p.m.
As a minimum qualification, you have to be a U.S. Citizen, high school graduate or equivalent, at least 19 years old (with no maximum age restriction), and have a valid driver’s license.
Additionally, applicants are required to have at least one of the following: completion of 30 semester hours or 45 quarter hours of college credit, one year of law enforcement experience, or two years in a job with public contact. Elmore adds that there’s a preference for military veterans, who’ve served at least two years with an honorable discharge.
“We really try to focus in on our military guys,” Elmore said in reference to those serving locally and across the state. “Once they leave their military service, I think it’s very important for us to make sure they’re our priority, to make sure that they’ve done their service and we want to help them get a job and get stable and get them where they need to be.”
For any individual interested in a career with the Florida Highway Patrol, more information is available at www.beatrooper.com.
In addition to this week’s career fairs, the FHP is planning to hold local recruitment events on a quarterly basis. It takes several months for applicants to be screened and selected for one of the three academy classes to be held this year
Lt. Elmore is hopeful the agency’s current approach will be successful in helping the really, shorthanded Pensacola District get back to full force within about two years.
“So that’s where we’re at. That’s where we’re going. And, we’re [going to] keep on with the strategy that we’ve just changed and hopefully we’ll see a lot more troopers on the roadways.”