SARASOTA (WWSB) - A recent study shows that every day, nearly a thousand people move to the State of Florida.
ABC7 has learned that the population boom is a concern for The Florida Highway Patrol, which says it can’t add enough troopers fast enough to handle the growth. In fact, just the opposite is true, FHP is actually losing troopers.
The division of FHP that covers the Suncoast is down 33 troopers. And statewide, they are short by about 180.
William Smith, who is the President of The Florida Highway Patrol Chapter of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, says this has caused the force to become more reactive than proactive.
"You've got to have enough personnel so that you have proactive enforcement or enforcement on the roadways where maybe speed is a problem, or DUIs are a problem in certain parts of the evening or on the weekends," Smith said.
ABC7 wanted to see just how fast drivers along I-75 were driving, so we bought a radar gun and staked out by the Proctor Road overpass.
We clocked cars going 72 mph, 77 mph,and even 81 mph, which are all over the 70 mph speed limit.
These high speeds create a higher risk for car accidents, which the State of Florida had about 400,000 of just in the last year.
“The problem is, the faster your car is going, the less reaction time you’re going to have to avoid something. We want our drivers to be defensive, we want them to abide by the speed limit, because there are other vehicles literally just a foot or two from your vehicle and it only takes one person not paying attention, one slight mistake, and we could have a tragedy on our hands,” said Lieutenant Greg Bueno of The Florida Highway Patrol.
So why has FHP's force shrunk?
ABC7 has learned that low pay for troopers is one factor.
"Our job is obviously very dangerous, intense, we work holidays, weekends, so sometimes it's not a job that everybody wants so the recruiting portion of it is difficult so that's why the increase in the starting pay needs to happen," said Smith.
And even though there were some pay raises under Rick Scott's administration, troopers say they weren't enough.
Along the Suncoast the starting salary for a trooper is around $40,000, but Smith says it should be between $43,000 and $45,000.
Low pay isn't the only reason a FHP spokesperson says it's hard to recruit. Smith said FHP has no career development plan for troopers, which makes it hard for them to plan their futures.
Sheriff Rick Wells of The Manatee County Sheriff's Office says he has noticed the decrease in troopers.
"It just seems like for them they've had a hard time keeping troopers in Manatee County, you know they don't live here, they live in another county and that's where they want to go back to so they transfer out," Sheriff Wells said.
And the decrease in troopers impacts the sheriff's office.
"That's something we didn't have to worry about ten years ago. FHP worked the traffic crashes, they handled traffic complaints, and then we would handle everything else that we were responsible for so we're trying to do the best we can to handle both and to help out FHP," said Sheriff Wells.
With The Florida Highway Patrol being understaffed, a trooper's shift could be up to sixteen hours long, going from call to call. Which has some people at FHP worried about the future.
"It's not going to get any better, it really isn't and it jeopardizes the safety of the motoring public," Smith said.
But, Lt. Bueno says the public can help by being more aware on the roads, "Our presence, our proactive enforcement, our education, our campaign initiatives,it still comes back to drivers have to understand the importance of being safe behind the wheel and making good choices."
Smith says while Governor Ron DeSantis seems to be very open about listening to law enforcement concerns, it's too early to know what he will be doing to help fix this problem.