LANSING -- Facing the prospect of fewer state troopers on patrol, law enforcement officials are crossing their fingers that $5 million to recruit and train replacements will be saved from the legislative budget ax.
Gov. Jennifer Granholm proposed the training school, which probably wouldn't be held until sometime next year, as part of her budget request for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
But no one knows if the Legislature will approve the measure as it sorts through the governor's $38.6-billion budget proposal.
"At this point, it's very early on to say what will happen with that," said Matt Resch, press secretary for House Speaker Rick Johnson, R-LeRoy. "It's certainly something we all would like to have, but we'll have to see how all the numbers play out."
If the Michigan State Police can't organize a training session, it won't be able to replace the estimated 100 troopers expected to retire this year. Another 220 will become eligible for retirement by year's end.
That would put the on-duty force dangerously close to falling below 1,000 troopers for the first time since 1969. The State Police has 1,135 troopers, excluding lieutenants, sergeants and other officers.
"We try to keep the numbers above 1,000 because that's when we're comfortable, and when we drop below that, that's when we have to take a real hard look at our services," said Mike Prince, public affairs manager for the State Police.
So far, State Police officials have been able to keep budget cuts from sidetracking road patrols.
A large number of civilian employees were lost to the state's early retirement buyout, and many high-ranking positions have been filled by existing commanders or left vacant.
But the number of troopers has remained relatively stable, although some posts have fallen a few troopers below ideal levels.
"As far as the trooper strength and the guys who are in the cars and responding to the calls, we're going to do whatever we can to keep that at full strength," said Cadillac post Lt. Bill Elliott. "It has not affected this operation at Cadillac at all."
The fear, however, is that it could. The Cadillac post, which has 14 troopers, is two below its ideal level, although such fluctuations are not uncommon or necessarily a problem, Elliott said.
And the State Police could have a small reduction of troopers without affecting local services, said Wexford County Undersheriff Fred Harris.
"Right now we're handling everything just fine. There are no long delays for response to calls," Harris said. "I don't know how many retirements we're looking at (for the State Police). A couple wouldn't impact our service capability in this county."
So far, State Police officials remain dedicated to making sure the number of troopers out on the roads remains stable.
But a trooper school would ease nerves. The proposed 16-week training would bring 100 new troopers into the force.
"We don't know what the next month or six months will bring for the budget," Prince said. "We don't have a crystal ball and can't forecast out that far, but we don't have any indications for reductions."
Until there is a school and its graduates go on duty, officials are continuing to look for nonessential items to cut.
"The public shouldn't notice any significant changers and neither should the local sheriffs," Prince said. "That's really the key."
© 2003, Capital News Service, Michigan State University
School of Journalism
© 2003, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism