An acute shortage of Virginia State Police troopers has prompted it to initiate an abbreviated academy program for existing law enforcement officers.
“It’s really gotten to a critical stage probably in the last two to three years,” said Virginia State Police spokeswoman Corinne Geller of the trooper shortage.
Through Aug. 31, Virginia State Police had 237 vacancies and a sworn force of 2,138, according to Geller, which includes troopers, special agents, commercial vehicle enforcement officers and supervisors. She was unable to break down the vacancies by division.
From Jan. 1, 2016, through Aug. 31, 262 sworn personnel have left the department — 157 in 2016 and 105 in 2017, Geller said.
The 2015 Virginia State Police’s Manpower Augmentation Study, based on calls for service and investigation caseloads, calls for an additional 932 sworn personnel in order to provide 24-hour coverage throughout Virginia.
The study showed that in Division V, which covers James City and York counties, much of the Peninsula, south Hampton Roads and Virginia’s Eastern Shore, the state police needs an additional 139 troopers.
The study noted that James City County is authorized to have 11 troopers, but needs 14, while York County is authorized to have 12 troopers, but needs 11.
The abbreviated state police academy program, which will run eight weeks instead of the normal six months, is unprecedented in the department’s 85-year history, Geller said.
Law enforcement officers who are Department of Criminal Justice certified and have at least three years experience, are eligible for the accelerated program.
Even with the 2017 General Assembly approving salary increases, Virginia State Police Superintendent Stephen Flaherty said in a news release that many of its field divisions across the state have vacancy rates approaching 50 percent.
“Despite the salary increases provided by the Virginia General Assembly this year, state police continue to struggle to prevent our sworn personnel from leaving for other agencies and then to fill those growing agencies in a timely manner,” Flaherty said.
Trooper starting salaries had been $36,207 before the General Assembly action. The new starting salary is $48,719, except for beginning troopers in Northern Virginia, who make $60,587.
In the 2017 session, the General Assembly approved extra funding to hike the starting salary to make it more competitive.
Also, the General Assembly approved a 3 percent raise across the board for state workers, including troopers, and it also increased compression pay, which provides an increase in salary for existing troopers.
“The pay raises have not sustained, so you’ve got folks who have been with the department for an extended period of time almost making as much, or less than, someone who is starting new,” Geller said.
The previous starting salary, according to Geller, did not allow the state police to compete with localities or with other state police agencies across the country.
Geller said the 30 troopers in the academy set to graduate in October is one of the smallest classes the state police has had in a decade. Typically, she said it graduates 60 to 80 people in an academy class.
“We’re just having a difficult time, as is everybody right now, hiring to fill our vacancies,” Geller said.
Virginia State Police are not only seeing fewer applications, the department is also not getting enough people to meet its standards, Geller said.
But with a multitude of priorities — combating a rise in traffic deaths, investigating drug and violent crimes — Geller said troopers are foregoing vacations and time off to cover for one another.
“We need the people in order to fulfill our whole mission,” Geller said. “A lot of folks think we’re just troopers who work crashes and write tickets.”
Virginia State Police began accepting applications for its new accelerated lateral entry program Sept. 1, with the next academy class to begin in April 2018. Those selected for the program, Geller said, will be hired to a specific vacancy somewhere in Virginia.
A scheduled academy class to begin in October, Geller said, was canceled because ir wasn’t full.
“We’ve still got to fill the vacancies, not only on our uniform side, but our investigative side as well," Geller said.
For information on becoming a Virginia State Police trooper, visit vsp.state.va.us/Employment_Trooper_Recruitment.shtm.