As FHP struggles to recruit, speeding tickets plummet
The number of speeding tickets written by Florida state troopers has plunged three straight years as the agency grapples with a personnel shortage and high turnover.
While that might be good news for highway travelers who want to speed this holiday weekend, it's a concerning trend for the head of the Florida Highway Patrol.
Since 2010, the agency has lost 993 troopers to retirement or resignation, or about half of its current workforce of 1,946 troopers, said FHP Director Colonel Gene Spaulding.
"That's a big turnover," said Spaulding, a 24-year highway patrol veteran himself. "That's really tough."
Spaulding had 240 vacancies in the department this spring. Reinforcements aren't filling the void. The state's trooper academy typically has 80 recruits per class three times a year. Spaulding said the current class doesn't even have half of that.
"This is crisis," said Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who for the last two years has been advocating for across the board pay raises for all state government workers.
While Spaulding said the agency is doing what it can to provide public safety, he acknowledged response times are getting longer.
Meanwhile, the workload is increasing. In 2011, the state reported 229,000 crashes. In 2016, that was up to 395,000. Local governments are stuck picking up the slack, said Sarasota Sheriff Tom Knight, who spent 20 years working for the FHP.
In 2008, his sheriff's department worked 38 percent of crashes in Sarasota County. Now? It's up to 71 percent.
"It's not the fault of the highway patrol," Knight said. "It's the Legislature not stepping up to take care of FHP."