Officials hope new class of state troopers can reduce response time

MHP Public Affairs Director Johnny Poulos
MHP Public Affairs Director Johnny Poulos

Mississippi lawmakers have approved money for a new class of state troopers to be trained, a move aimed at reducing a staff shortage and shortening response time to crashes.

The bill awaits a signature from Gov. Phil Bryant, who had recognized law enforcement issues in his first State of the State address, Capt. Johnny Poulos, public affairs director for the Mississippi Highway Patrol, said Wednesday.

MHP is allocated 650 state trooper positions but only 475 positions are filled, Poulos said. About 150 of those troopers are due to retire soon.

Those numbers mean 73 percent of job positions are filled and 23 percent of the state’s troopers are prospective retirees expected to leave vacancies.

The school would be the state’s first since 2015. The last school before that was in 2011.

Poulos said 22 troopers patrol the six southernmost counties.

The Legislature authorized the new school while approving MHP’s budget, Poulos said.

“This is definitely going to improve public safety, and response time to crashes will be quicker,” he said.

Details on the school’s start date and the application process should be released in a few days, he said.

“We very much appreciate the help,” he said. “The number of fatal crashes is on the rise, like the fatalities you’ve been seeing on the Coast, and the number of crashes is way up and injuries are way up. We always say visibility (of troopers) in itself is a deterrent.”

Legislative approval allows MHP to graduate up to 60 state troopers from one school.

Sixty graduates could cost up to $7.3 million, he said. The total will depend on how many graduate.

“That’s the sticker shock that people will see,” Poulos said, “but you’ve got to take into account that amount includes the costs of their training, their patrol cars and equipment, everything they need. Every penny is accounted for.”

Department of Public Safety Commissioner Marshall Fisher, MHP Director Col. Chris Gillard and Deputy Director Lt. Col. Randy Ginn have worked hard to make this happen and gain support from the House and Senate, Poulos said.

“Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn were very instrumental in us receiving the funding,” he said.