If you get into an accident on the interstate, you expect the state patrol to assist you but in Iowa response times have dramatically increased due to a shortage of troopers.
For more than a decade fewer and fewer Iowa state troopers have been on patrol, due to attrition and the budget not allowing positions to be filled.
As time goes by, those who are on patrol say their job is just going to get tougher.
Iowa State Police Officers Council President Jason Bardsley says due to a trooper shortage.
It took 45-minutes to an hour for the first trooper to get to a crash on I-80 last December that killed Omaha youth hockey coach Shayne Sanborn and two children.
“The closest available trooper was over 100-miles away, there were troopers closer but they were tied up, it was a snow storm and tied up with other accidents,” said Bardsley.
Bardsley said time matters in accidents like that one.
“It’s key for getting that first person on scene at an accident,” said Bardsley.
Bardsley worries about the dwindling number of troopers watching the highways. In 2000 there were 367 troopers patrolling the roads.. but this year just 258.
Bardley says the ideal number is 450.
“It’s a shuffling game trying to make sure you have staffing in proper places, trying to set schedules so you are trying to watch your overtime,” said Bardsley.
At night the numbers are worse, “The average is approximately 5 troopers for the entire state of Iowa,”
And in western Iowa, “It can be 1-2 troopers working the entire western third of Iowa.”
As a result, the state patrol relies on county deputies to pick up the slack.
“There's more on our plate then there was 20 years ago,” said Cass Co. Sheriff Darby McLaren.
McLaren says his department only has 9 people including himself covering the entire county.
now they're helping out on the interstate if the troopers are too far away,” said McLaren.
“We’re responding, taking away the Cass County taxpayer, cuz we're responding and we're having to cover the interstate as well,” said McLaren.
That means less time spent patrolling towns.
“We’ll respond, we would rather be patrolling the small towns,” reiterated McLaren.
To help alleviate the shortage, Bardsley and other troopers are asking the state for more money to hire more troopers.
“We would just like to see steady growth, just somewhere in there where we are starting to see make some of the ground up that we've lost in recent years and get back to a number that is functionable for the department and state patrol,” said Bardsley.
Iowa state Representative Charlie McConkey, who represents Council Bluffs also wants more troopers on the roads. He’s looking at budget options like reducing tax credits to pay for them, “We have a bad habit of just providing a tax credit and just forgetting about it and letting it go on, if it's not working we should use that money to in an area where we can get the most bang for our tax payer dollars.”
Money Bardsley hopes can put more troopers on the roads and make them safer.
“Hopefully the legislature will take that into account and maybe we can come together and find something suitable for the next 5-10 years to get our numbers back up,” said Bardsley.
Just the sheer presence of troopers on the roads reduces speeding and crashes according to Bardsley because once someone sees a trooper the automatic instinct is to slow down.
KMTV reached out to Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and got this written response:
“Iowa is facing challenging budget times as we've seen a downturn in the agricultural economy. However, Gov. Branstad is committed to working with the legislature to address the law enforcement needs on Iowa's roads.”
Lawmakers are currently debating the budget and the state patrol should know its budget this Spring.