The Florida Highway Patrol needs continued pay raises to combat agency turnover, according to officials.
FHP Lt. Col. Troy Thompson told the Senate Transportation Committee Tuesday the agency loses 180 officers every year while making only 30 to 35 hires in each class of troopers. Currently, 130 positions are vacant.
Thompson gave senators the budget spiel after Sen Tom Wright, a New Smyrna Beach Republican, probed him on the agency’s current vacancies.
“The bottom line, to answer your question, it’s a pay issue,” he said.
Three times a year, FHP puts 120 to 140 people through classes. About 50 applicants meet the qualifications and requirements to go through an 18-week academy. At the end of that training, generally only 30 to 35 remain.
Many prospective recruits go to other agencies with better pay. Those agencies also pull veterans away from FHP, Thompson said.
One colleague, he noted, was earning $46,000 annually after 20 years on the force. At his local sheriff’s office, he would be making $92,000 for the same tenure, double the salary.
Each year, the Legislature must vote to give state employees pay raises. Recently, lawmakers have given FHP officers about a 4% raise annually.
But for periods in early 2000s and after the 2008 Great Recession, the Legislature did not approve pay raises.
“That put us behind a lot of other law enforcement agencies,” Thompson said.
The COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest in 2020 exacerbated FHP’s attrition problems.
“I think we saw a lot of folks either retire or simply leave law enforcement this year because of the issues that were going on,” he said.
Panama City Republican Sen. George Gainer asked how else the Legislature could help the agency. Management issues are the next leading cause of turnovers, Thompson replied, but noted the agency in recent years has put “the right leaders in the right spots.”
He also asked lawmakers, especially after the agency cut back during the pandemic, to continue funding FHP’s spending requests.
“We’re really doing it for lifesaving efforts and to maintain the level of professionalism that we have throughout the agency,” he said.