Pennsylvania State Police emphasize diversity recruiting efforts

Pennsylvania State troopers pull over vehicles on Friday, Sept. 4, 2020, along the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Breezewood, Pa.AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

(The Center Square) – Leaders of the Pennsylvania State Police emphasized their recruitment efforts as they testified in front of the House Appropriations Committee on Monday.

They also supported Gov. Josh Shapiro’s call to create a dedicated fund, rather than relying on money from the Motor License Fund to support operations.

Shapiro’s budget would send an extra $16 million to hire almost 400 state troopers. Another $16 million would, according to the testimony of PSP Commissioner Christopher Paris, would support vehicle maintenance and radio upgrades.

Recruiting more state troopers, Paris noted, has become a harder struggle compared to years past. The number of applications has dramatically fallen.

“Our attitude is that there are people out there who want to become Pennsylvania state troopers and we’re going to look to find them,” Paris said.

In a typical hiring cycle, he noted that 8,000 to 10,000 people would sign up. However, in the most recent period, 1,057 people signed up. A tight labor market makes recruiting harder, and other police departments in the commonwealth have told lawmakers of their struggles, as the Center Square previously reported, in both rural and urban areas.

Currently, PSP has 155 job vacancies, with more than 700 troopers eligible to retire this year. Replacing retiring troopers isn’t only a question of replacing staff to cover the same areas.

“Our concern, from an operational standpoint, is not just vacancies, but the loss of institutional knowledge,” Paris said.

To attract recruits, the PSP wants to publicize law enforcement as a way to create generational wealth and give workers a greater purpose.

“The job is, we like to say, an instant ticket to the middle class,” Paris said. “But beyond that, it’s a job that you can make a life while you make a living.”

He also iterated the PSP’s emphasis on diversifying its labor force.

“Our record on diversity is clear,” he said. “It is a continuing, paramount priority for us.”

He also pointed to outreach efforts to minority military veterans and historically black colleges.

“Our last applicant testing cycle … 27% of those were minorities, almost 12% were female,” said Major Wayne Kline, acting deputy commissioner of administration and professional responsibility for the PSP. “Our focus is in the right area and we’re trying to make improvements.”

“Can you also state that you will do more to work with community groups or community members?” asked Rep. Regina Young, D-Philadelphia.

“If there’s a group out there that wants to talk with us about somebody they know that wants to be a Pennsylvania state trooper, we will meet them anywhere, anytime,” Paris said.

PSP officials also expected a body camera pilot program to start sometime in the summer, but some It issues may slow it down and Paris was cautious to give an exact timeframe.

“Our commitment to do it is there,” Paris said. “It’s going to be a massive undertaking for us to do it, and we don’t want to overpromise and underdeliver.”

Paris noted the PSP’s support for a dedicated fund proposed by Shapiro; avoiding a competition for funds against roads and bridges would be “huge,” he said.

“Because our budget is primarily driven by personnel costs, finding a way to fully fund the PSP is inexorably linked to our ability to provide the citizens of this great Commonwealth with the quality service they deserve and have come to expect,” Paris said in his written testimony.

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