Budget forces Highway Patrol to halt hiring, training

Posted May 26, 2011 6:50 p.m. EDT
Updated May 27, 2011 5:39 a.m. EDT

— The North Carolina State Highway Patrol has implemented a hiring freeze, and the patrol commander said Thursday that the ranks of troopers could be reduced because of state budget cuts.

The budget proposal Senate Republicans unveiled this week includes $193 million for the Highway Patrol, which would be a $12 million spending cut. The agency has cut $28 million from its budget in the past two years.

"This budget will reduce the number of troopers on the road, no question about it," Col. Michael Gilchrist said.

Gov. Beverly Perdue's budget proposal didn't include any cuts for the Highway Patrol, which employs about 1,800 sworn officers.

Gilchrist has already suspended transfers and promotions, which would entail higher salaries, to save money until lawmakers approve a final budget.

"We're going to discontinue basic schools, which means we're not going to hire troopers and we're not going to train new troopers," he said.

The money woes are aggravated by skyrocketing fuel expenses to keep patrol cars on the highways, he said.

In an internal memo obtained by WRAL News, patrol officials discuss eliminating a "significant number" of positions because of budget cuts, although no firm figures were mentioned.

"In Wake County, we're shorthanded now," said Trooper Beckley Vaughan, a 23-year veteran of the patrol. "We're shorthanded, and we're still losing people."

The priority for troopers is preventive patrol, from running radar to catch speeders to checking safety violations. With continued budget cuts, Gilchrest said, troopers would do little more than respond to calls and crashes, which could put public safety at risk.

"Really, the people (who) suffer the most are the people traveling on the highway, not us," Vaughan said.