Special Report: Where are the Troopers?

Oregon State Police said its low staffing level is costing lives.

Posted: Oct 31, 2018 2:09 PM
Updated: Oct 31, 2018 3:07 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- Oregon State Police has the second lowest number of troopers per person in the whole country, just ahead of Florida.

"We're about eight troopers per 100,000," said Capt. Tim Fox with Oregon State Police. He said the low staffing level is costing lives. 

"We're down to about half of what we were ... with the amount of road miles and the population are almost double of what they were in 1980," Fox said.

OSP's resources weren't always stretched this thin. In 1980, there were 624 troopers and sergeants. Today, they have 381.

(Map courtesy OSP)

Fox said in those days, OSP had a dedicated stream of revenue through the state's highway fund, but that stopped in the early 80s.

Now, the money comes out of the state's general fund, which legislators and the governor can use to pay for almost anything.

Fox said the lack of dedicated funds and staffing has had tragic consequences. Because OSP is short staffed, Fox said troopers cannot regularly patrol secondary routes, like highways 126 or 58.

In 2017, he said 80 percent of the fatal crashes OSP responded to were on secondary highways.

"Since I've lived here, I've seen about a dozen crashes -- in the past two months, four crashes with causalities," said Ashton Hart, who's lived in Springfield near Highway 126 for the past 10 years. 

People who drive along Highway 126 said speed is a big problem there.

"Because they know they wouldn't get a ticket if they sped up here," Hart said.

Hart said he'd like to see the speed reduced, but until then, he said having a trooper on the highway would make a big difference and save lives.

Fox agrees.

"I wholeheartedly believe that it would," Fox said. "I think anybody who's driven them can see that there's some pretty aggressive driving that's going on. So we'd like to get out there and stop that."

He said they'd also like to patrol those routes to enforce the fatal five.

"Are they speeding? Are they impaired? Are they distracted using their phone? Occupant safety ... are they wearing their seat belts? Also, the drive within lane ... basically making sure they are not weaving in and out," said Trooper Todd Larsen. 

Trooper Larsen works out of OSP's southwest region headquarters. He patrols all the state highways west of Springfield, and then some.

"So I'll go over to Mapleton. I'll cover 126 west. I'll cover Highway 36 ... I'll also cover Highway 200, which is Territorial Highway," Larsen said. "And today, with the issue with Florence not having a Trooper on ... if there are calls on the coast, I'll head over to 101."

Because OSP is short-staffed, Larsen gets a lot of calls, and it's more than he can respond to. 

That's why they're now turning to lawmakers for change, pushing for more troopers in 2019.

"It's a big concern. We need to fix this," said Oregon Senator James Manning, who represents areas of Eugene and Junction City. 

As a former police officer himself, he said the state needs to do more.

"It has stretched OSP troopers to a degree that it's virtually hard for them to really do the job, and so a lot of calls go unanswered,"  Manning said

Until it's fixed, Larsen said he's doing the best job he can with the miles of interstates and highways he's covering.

"Safety is our goal here," Larsen said.

Preventing deadly crashes is another goal and something he sees all too often.

"It's devastating to first responders as well as the family," Larsen said. "And so that's something we don't want to see. We want to reduce those number of fatal crashes."

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