Serious state trooper shortfalls possible without more cadet training funds, says acting PA police commissioner.
By Chris Comisac
Deputy Bureau Chief
HARRISBURG (March 2) – The commonwealth needs to look at ways to continue funding Pennsylvania State Police cadet classes, Gov. Tom Corbett’s nominee for the top state police job told senators Wednesday.
If not, projections show the state could be as many as 1,400 troopers short in the future due to retirements from the existing trooper complement.
One of the problems that we have in the state police is we have these bubbleswe get way down [in personnel], and then hire a lot of people, and then that bubble hits and retires, and then we get way down,”said acting State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan.
Noonan said those “bubbles” play havoc with recruitment “because people can’t wait around for a year or two until we have another [cadet] class coming in.”
“The fact that we have these stops and starts in recruiting is really a problem for us,” he told the Senate Law and Justice Committee during a hearing to consider his nomination as state police commissioner. The committee voted unanimously to recommend that the full Senate confirm his nomination.
Noonan explained to senators that the current complement of state police personnel is down approximately 300 troopers from its total complement of 4,677.
“We are able to meet all the needs, I believe, of the commonwealth at our current levels, even though we’re 300 down,” said Noonan. “There are things we’re missing, but I don’t think it affects the safety of citizens at all.”
But if the shortage of trooper grows, to say, double its current level, that’s a different matter, Noonan said.
“If we were to go down 600, which is possible with the upcoming retirements, that could place a tremendous stress on what we have to do,” he said.
About 1,400 state troopers will be eligible to retire before the current contract expires on June 30, 2012.
And it’s likely many of those eligible to retire will do so, because “historically we have seen an increase in retirement ratio as a new contract approaches,” said Noonan.
“What I’m hoping is that we can build up so that we’re not so down when we do face this number of retirements, so that it won’t be a crisis for us,” he said.
The state police will soon add 100 troopers to its complement courtesy of a cadet class scheduled to graduate on April 1.
Another class of 100 cadets will begin training on May 8, added Noonan. Training takes approximately 27 weeks to complete.
“We’ve asked for more cadet classes next year, but I don’t know exactly how many we’re going to get,” Noonan said, noting that budget constraints could limit those classes.
Training of each cadet costs approximately $29,000, according to state police spokesman Jack Lewis. So a class of 100 cadets would cost $2.9 million.
Regarding the funding concerns, Noonan told senators the Corbett administration is interested in recent legislative efforts to increase police training dollars.
On Tuesday, the Senate Transportation Committee unanimously approved bi-partisan legislation to redirect millions of dollars collected in traffic-enforcement fines toward cadet training efforts.
Senate Bill 237 would strip municipalities that provide less than 40 hours of local police coverage per week of their local share of fines collected through State Police traffic stops.
Under current law, half of the fines collected through state police patrols in a local municipality are returned to the municipality through a Motor License Fund formula — even if the municipality relies only on the state for police protection. The bill would exempt municipalities with fewer than 3,000 residents.
Senate staff anticipate about 1,200 municipalities across Pennsylvania will be impacted by the measure, steering more than $4 million toward State Police cadet training.