Tuesday, July 3, 2007
Carmel on the Case: FHP
Poor pay is taking a toll on the Florida Highway Patrol. State legislators aren't giving them raises this year, and 7 News is hearing morale is low and frustration is high. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is On the Case.
WSVN -- If you're in an accident, the first person you'll probably look for is a highway patrol trooper.
Trooper: "I got a white van and a red car, both of them hit the wall."
But you might have to wait quite a while because FHP is down close to 200 troopers statewide.
Trooper: "She was originally in front of you and tried to come back?"
Some troopers say it's all about money.
Joe Mosca: "The problem is Tallahassee just seems to have other priorities."
Joe Mosca has been a trooper for 21 years. He says pay is usually handled at the last minute by the State legislature. In fact, despite the governor proposing a five percent increase, troopers only got a one-time $1,000 bonus.
Joe Mosca: "We actually feel you're making less money when you figure in the cost of living and inflation. As every year progresses we're making less money."
And that means a lot of experienced officers leave. The result, while the number of people and vehicles in South Florida is going up, the number of troopers on the road has declined for years. Miami-Dade is down 56 troopers in the last 17 years. In Broward they are down ten.
Joe Mosca: "And we can't keep people on the road because as soon as they spend a few years with us, they go to another department."
Governor Charlie Crist: "Well, I don't think it's a crisis situation."
We caught up with Governor Charlie Crist at a bill signing ceremony. He says things should get better for troubled troopers.
Governor Charlie Crist: "I'm optimistic about it. I think we have great troopers in the state of Florida, and I'm very proud of them."
Carmel Cafiero: "Are they going to have money?
Governor Charlie Crist: "Yes, they are."
Carmel Cafiero: "Are they going to have more money coming?
Governor Charlie Crist: "Sure they are."
But the governor says that depends on getting the economy going. It will also depend on the legislature.
Representative Julio Robaina: "We have dropped the ball and shame on the legislative process for not giving them at least the minimum, so we can have some retention."
Unidentified trooper: "It's horrible."
This career trooper asked we protect his identity, so someone else is speaking his words.
Unidentified trooper: "Morale is very low, very, very low. I think it's worse than it's ever been."
He says they are stretched so thin that sometimes, overnight, there are only two troopers on duty to cover an entire county. And, as a result of fewer troopers on the road, it can take a long time for a trooper to get to the scene of a minor accident.
And when the weather is bad, delays can last as long as five hours. Another casualty, time to do enforcement.
Unidentified trooper: "The public is going to be at more danger. There's going to be more aggressive drivers on the road. You're going to have more road rages, and people are going to get hurt."
Carmel Cafiero: As one veteran put it, when there are no troopers on the road for enforcement, it's as if there is no speed limit, and that makes South Florida's already mean roads, downright scary.
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