More than a third of the counties in the state have no Kansas Highway Patrol officer serving them, according to data from the law enforcement agency.
There were 36 counties, including Sumner, without a dedicated trooper as of November, and another 29 that were served by one trooper.
The other 40 counties are served by two or more officers.
Statewide, the Highway Patrol has 82 fewer troopers than it did 10 years ago, which has hindered the agency’s ability to carry out its mission, according to Col. Mark Bruce, the Highway Patrol’s superintendent.
Bruce sent a letter to lawmakers on New Year’s Eve asking them to support a $7.50 increase in vehicle title fees to allow the patrol to hire an additional 75 troopers to cover the state. Titles have cost $10 since 2003.
“In 2006, the KHP was staffed with 501 troopers. That number has decreased to 419,” the letter said. “The overall effectiveness of the Patrol in performing our mission and our ability to support the local law enforcement community in Kansas has been negatively impacted.”
“The KHP as well as our local partners are dependent upon the resources we collectively bring to bear in providing for the safety of the public,” Bruce continued. “Unfortunately, over the past decade, due to the staffing losses, our ability to do so has been severely handicapped.”
Lt. Adam Winters, the patrol’s public information officer, said many troopers have retired in recent years and the agency has had trouble recruiting and retaining replacements. KHP recently graduated 20 new troopers from its academy. Most were sent to more populous areas.
Bruce called the proposed fee increase “a user fee that ties directly to the Patrol’s statutory mandate to enforce laws relative to the operation of vehicles.”
His letter noted that Gov. Sam Brownback has publicly expressed support for increasing the Highway Patrol’s numbers. The governor’s office did not immediately comment when asked whether Brownback supported the proposed fee increase.
Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, R-Hutchinson, said he would most likely support KHP’s request or a similar proposal. “We need to get more law enforcement officers out on the street,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said the request deserves serious consideration, but he also criticized the governor’s income tax cuts.
The state faces a combined shortfall of about $190 million for the current and next fiscal year. Lawmakers raised the sales tax last year to address an earlier shortfall.
Brownback has said he will not pursue tax increases this year. Hensley called the proposed fee hike a tax increase in disguise.
The Highway Patrol’s request comes while the Kansas Department of Corrections is also having difficulty retaining prison guards, a situation that lawmakers of both parties blame on uncompetitive pay.