OLYMPIA, Wash. - This week, lawmakers are addressing what they call a staffing crisis at the Washington State Patrol.
Right now, WSP is down 176 positions, and over the next few years is expected to lose nine troopers a month through retirement
Trooper Danny Knox joined the Washington State Patrol three years ago. Working out of District 1 in Tacoma, he learned quickly what it was like to be short staffed.
"My crew has been working with 3 to 4 people per shift when a regular crew supposed to be 8 or 9 people," said Knox. "It's definitely taxing on us."
Staffing not only affects response times, but it takes a hard hit on morale. Add to that a salary that averages 20 percent below other agencies in the state, and you have what Representative Jake Fey calls a crisis.
"Sixty-three percent said they would not recommend to a friend or a family member to join the state patrol," Fey told the House Labor and Workplace Standards Committee.
It's evident in recruiting numbers. What was once an average of 37 graduates from an academy class continues to drop. The latest class yielded just 25.
Legislators are considering a number of bills that would tackle the big issue, trooper pay, which could also reduce losses to higher paying agencies.
"By simply changing uniforms, they can increase their salaries by up to a couple thousand dollars a month," said Trooper Jeff Merrill with the Washington State Troopers Association. "And that's really big to people working the highway."
While lawmakers address funding, the chief says he is working on morale.
"We're working with their schedules to make it more palatable to their family life needs," said Chief John Batiste. "We're working with uniforms to make sure they save money when it comes to dry cleaning costs, because of the low pay they receive. And we're looking to improve their comfort."
"We all get into this job because we want to make a difference but in the end of the day we all have to support our family," said Knox.
Their decision to take or stay on the job could impact our safety on our state's highways.