Troopers make thousands of stops despite staff shortage
By Margaret O’Hara
The Sheridan Press
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
SHERIDAN — In its 2021 year-in-review press release earlier this month, the Wyoming Highway Patrol recognized thousands of stops in the past year while acknowledging significant staffing shortages within the organization.
In 2021, WHP troopers initiated 104,615 vehicle stops across the state, Sgt. Jeremy Beck stated in a recent press release. Beck said 29,506 drivers were issued speeding citations, 720 impaired drivers were stopped and arrested and 56,162 drivers were issued warnings.
In total, Beck said troopers investigated 4,779 crashes on state highways and assisted 19,982 motorists with mechanical issues, lack of fuel or other issues on the road.
WHP also seized a considerable quantity of stolen or illicit property, Beck said, including 30 stolen vehicles, 7,200 pounds of marijuana, 207 pounds of methamphetamine, 24.5 pounds of fentanyl and 5 pounds of cocaine.
Beyond WHP troopers, the patrol’s dispatch center processed 159,532 events, including 2,981 Report Every Drunk Driver, or REDDI, reports and 1,387 Safe2Tell school safety concern reports. The patrol’s port of entry officers, meanwhile, contacted more than 1 million commercial vehicles and weighed 417,654 commercial trucks, nearly 34,000 of which were identified as overweight and more than 2,000 as oversize.
“Despite being down 35 troopers, 12 dispatchers and 13 point of entry officers, everyone is working extra hours to get the job done serving the public,” said WHP Col. Kebin Haller.
However, these staffing shortages still loom large in the organization according to WHP Association President Sgt. Duane Ellis. In an open letter published on the association’s Facebook page and website in December 2021, Ellis lamented WHP’s chronic understaffing and beseeched WHP and the state of Wyoming to provide additional hiring incentives for new troopers, dispatchers and point of entry officers.
Ellis said WHP’s lack of hiring incentives and salaries below starting wages at other law enforcement agencies and private companies results in WHP employing fewer than its recommended staff of 208 sworn officers, 47 dispatchers, and 97 port of entry officers. According to one WHP entry level recruitment job listing, current starting pay in the patrol varies from $20.04 to $23.76 per hour.
“Law enforcement agencies across the country are recognizing the need to identify the best applicants…Relocation bonuses, sign-on bonuses, step increases in pay and competitive compensation packages are being offered to get the best applicants for their agency. The Wyoming Highway Patrol is suffering because we don’t offer any of these to our employees!” Ellis wrote.
Ellis implored Wyoming residents to support wage and benefit increases for WHP.
“Wyoming simply cannot afford to continue losing these vital public servants,” Ellis said.
These staffing shortages affect agency response times and the availability of troopers as well as place additional pressure on local sheriff’s offices to investigate vehicle crashes, explained Sheridan County Sheriff Allen Thompson.
In 2021, Thompson explained, 26% of all Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office crash investigations were conducted on behalf of WHP, a 6% increase from the previous three years’ average of 20%. Unfortunately, Thompson said, this increase in investigative responsibility came during a year when SCSO was also short-staffed.
Thompson said he supported increases in WHP salaries and benefits. Although in some ways law enforcement agencies throughout the state — from municipal police departments to county sheriff’s offices to the Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation — tend to compete within a single candidate pool, Thompson explained competitive law enforcement wages ensure all peace officers in Wyoming are highly qualified and ready to serve their communities.
“If we’re all paid a competitive wage, then that benefits everyone in our community,” Thompson said.