Oregon State Police has not been able to provide 24/7 patrol coverage on Oregon’s highways since February 2003. This is good news for drug runners and those who drive home after “last call” in some bar, and bad news if you are a stranded late-night driver or a State Trooper who just pulled over a car full of suspicious characters and there is not another Trooper for 100 miles to give back-up if things get ugly.
Like music to the ears of our State Police, the House and Senate Republicans, joined by 14 Democrats, announced yesterday the introduction of House Bill 3535. This Bill will fund 139 new patrol troopers needed to provide 24/7 highway coverage. The dedicated account will be funded by 1% of Oregon’s General Fund revenues. Since ensuring public safety is the top “Core Principle” for good government, House Bill 3535 is a good solution to this long term problem.
Back in 1979 there were 641 State Troopers assigned to patrol Oregon’s highways. Since then Oregon’s population has increased by more than 30%, Oregon’s registered vehicles have increased by 65%, and the number of miles traveled on Oregon’s highways has increased by more than 77%.
As Oregon’s population and highways increased through the years, the number of its State Troopers should have kept pace. Unfortunately, public safety has not been a Legislative priority. Currently, Oregon has 287 State Police in its patrol division””a reduction of 374 Troopers over the past 26 years. The present number of 287 was the same number of patrol troopers Oregon had in the 1950’s.
Failing to adequately support the State Police has been a dangerous practice. There have been 11,000 fatalities and more than 675,000 injuries on Oregon highways over the past two decades. In fact, car crashes are the highest risk of death in Oregon for someone between ages 3 and 33. It is sobering to consider that in Oregon there is a fatal crash every 18 hours, and nearly half involve alcohol & other drugs. In 2005 there were 45,000 emergency calls including suspected drunk drivers and dangerous, reckless drivers. Of those 45,000, more than half, 24,000, went unanswered due to inadequate patrol troopers on the roads. In addition, the anticipated cuts in federal timber replacement revenues to 33 Oregon counties will result in even greater dependence on the OSP for law enforcement capabilities. It is feasible that in some counties the OSP will be the only law enforcement left to protect rural Oregonians.
In short, when there are more State Troopers patrolling our highways, everyone is safer””including the troopers who frequently stop and must search vehicles for drugs, when it is not safe to do so without back-up. Oregon’s breach in common sense toward public safety cannot be allowed to continue.
Last week the Co-Chairs Budget was released. I was pleased, and a little surprised, to see the Co-Chairs had included funding for 100 additional State Troopers without requiring the Governor’s proposed tax on automobile insurance policies. After taking a closer look at the proposed Co-Chair’s budget, something did not add up. The Co-Chairs might have authorized hiring 100 new troopers, but the actual hiring could occur only as fast as the recruits could be trained. The training of Oregon State Police recruits takes place at the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST). It was most interesting to find the budget for DPSST had not been increased to enable the training of 100 new officers. In fact, the DPSST’s “Other Funds” budget had been reduced from the Governor’s Recommended Budget by more than a million dollars. Probably just an oversight””duh-ya think?
Anyway, oversight or “smoke-and-mirrors,” House Bill 3535 provides for 139 new troopers and there will be enough money left over in the dedicated 1% of the General Fund’s State Troopers’ account to back-fill the DPSST budget, so the recruits can be trained as quickly as classes can be organized.
In conclusion, the General Fund budget for 2007-09 totals $12.6 billion. If H.B. 3535 becomes law, 1% of that amount will dedicate $127 million for the State Police patrol division. Since protecting Oregon’s citizens should be government’s highest priority, funding Oregon’s State Police should be at the top of the list of appropriations. If budgeting sufficient dollars to hire, train and outfit enough State Troopers to provide 24/7 coverage of Oregon highways squeezes out funding for some non-essential program, so be it.