Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
The Pennsylvania State Police stand to get a big influx of new troopers under Governor Corbett's budget proposal, but filling the hundreds of vacancies in the force will likely take a few more years.
State Police are about 500 troopers shy of their state-authorized complement (more than 4,600). The Corbett administration's spending plan has sought to remedy the gap, with a proposed funding increase to pay for four academy training classes and 350 new hires.
A state lawmaker asked Commissioner Frank Noonan if additional state funding could get the State Police back to full complement this year. But more money may bring more problems.
"It's interesting, because the 350 that is in the current budget is the maximum that I can put through my academy right now," Noonan said. The only solution then would be to open up other training centers throughout the state.
"But here's the other side of the coin: in order to do that, I have to take troopers, where I'm already needing them, out of the field - to be trainers," Noonan said. "So if we got more money for more troopers, certainly, I would try, but 350 is what I asked for because that's the most I can put through."
The new cadet classes aren't expected to bring a net gain of 350 troopers for the State Police. About 280 are expected to make it through to training. On top of that, the agency must brace for additional retirements.
"Here's the math: if I get 300 troopers and 200 retire, I only gained 100. If I have 400 retire, I've lost 100," Noonan said. "It's hard for me to predict. It's an individual decision by everybody."
The State Police's yawning vacancy rate over the past few years can be chalked up to a wave of retirements over the past few years, as well as a lack of new cadet training classes in 2009 and 2010.
It's forced Noonan and his deputies to be crafty about covering patrol ground, especially in rural areas that depend on the State Police without local police departments. Noonan said efforts to hire people to be police dispatchers, a job that has been done in the past by troopers, has freed up much-needed manpower.
"That has been a godsend for us in handling this situation," Noonan said. "That has been a big, big benefit."
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