Trooper shortage: Two for four counties in Treasure Coast

Fox 29 Reporter Gabriella Bruni

A massive shortage of troopers could be putting your safety in jeopardy. In fact, right now, there's most likely only two troopers patrolling our highways.

They pull over drunk drivers and help stranded motorists, and, by doing so, troopers help us get to where we are going safely. But the job is becoming increasingly difficult because there are fewer troopers on the road.

Drivers take note of a strange absence as they traveled along the Turnpike this holiday weekend. "I didn't see any highway patrol men yesterday [Sunday]."

An Florida Highway Patrol Union spokesman says low wages and budget cuts are prompting the staffing shortfall.

Trooper Chris Gatewood tells us the highway patrol is being stretched thin. "It's very possible on the entire length of the Turnpike. We have less than 10 troopers patrolling the Turnpike."

Local troops have lost positions or can't fill them. Right now, 22 troopers patrol Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee and Indian River Counties.

Thirty-eight troopers patrol Palm Beach County, but Trooper Gatewood says on a typical weekday night coverage drops dramatically - especially through the Treasure Coast. "Two troopers for those four counties is unacceptable."

He says the situation could put public safety at risk because it takes troopers longer to respond to calls. It's also dangerous because troopers don't always have back up.

Drivers Fox 29 spoke to say they don't feel comfortable. "In case of an accident, if you need any help, nobody will be there to help you or notice that you need help."

"If I got stuck, I'd like to know that there is a trooper nearby to help me out. That's for sure."

FHP has about 150 open positions statewide. In an effort to fill those positions and make them more attractive, there is a bill in the Senate that would increase troopers salaries by 10 percent. The money would come from fines collected from bad drivers. The starting salary for a trooper is $34,000.