Pinellas law enforcement project has Highway Patrol up in arms
The Florida Highway Patrol is fighting one of House Speaker Richard Corcoran's priorities, this time on a public safety issue that could affect every motorist in Pinellas County.
The FHP on Wednesday testified in "stark opposition" to a House plan to shift the handling of car crashes on all state roads and unincorporated areas from the FHP to sheriffs in Pinellas and Polk counties. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee's bill also would require the patrol to transfer about $6 million of its budget to those two counties for the next two years.
"This would be a stark change to our business model," Lt. Col. Mike Thomas of the patrol testified. He said FHP didn't see the bill until Tuesday and "we haven't had the chance to really evaluate any of the fiscal impacts as well as the impacts to the public. We are about public safety."
In many counties, state troopers are responsible for investigating car crashes on state roads and in unincorporated areas. But sheriffs say that there are so few troopers on the roads that sheriffs end up working those crashes, or staying with trraumatized motorists and directing traffic until a trooper arrives.
"We're already doing it," Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri told the Times/Herald. "I believe we can do it faster, better, cheaper." He added: "The citizen doesn't understand why the guy in the green uniform goes by five times while they're sitting there waiting for the guy in the brown uniform."
Sheriffs say the problem is made worse by a chronic lack of funding to hire more troopers and to pay them higher salaries. A starting sheriff's deputy usually makes a lot more money than a rookie trooper.
Gualtieri said that in at least two counties, Pasco and Orange, sheriffs have a policy of not investigating crashes on state roads or unincorporated areas, forcing drivers to wait for a trooper, even if it takes several hours.