PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Their jobs are dangerous and yet, they’re among some of the lowest-paid law enforcement officers in the state. Florida FHP troopers make $38,034 while enrolled in the academy and start at $41,917 once they graduate from the academy.
Some counties, including Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota and Pasco, pay slightly more at $46,917. Yet, on average, Florida troopers make $8,000 less than troopers in other states.
The lower pay is leading to a shortage of FHP troopers. Currently, there are 240 vacancies statewide. Now, some state leaders are on a mission to increase salaries.
That’s critical for Gene Gracey, who is part of the Florida Highway Patrol Retired Personnel Association.
“I did 32 years with FHP. I’ve been retired 28 years and it has been a problem all along for us,” he explained.
For Gracey, being a trooper is part of his family’s legacy.
“My father was a trooper. Both my brothers were troopers. My uncle was a trooper. My daughter is a trooper currently,” he elaborated.
Yet, he worries about the agency’s future with hundreds of vacancies. The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles says for every 40 troopers they hire, 50 leave the agency.
Many leave to work for other law enforcement organizations, which can pay significantly more. In Delaware, a state 28 times smaller than Florida, troopers start at $63,000 a year.
Senator Ed Hooper is on a mission to increase trooper pay.
“A big concern is retention. We get them certified, we get them ready to go on the road and they find out ‘Hey, I can go someplace and make $10,000 more a year to start' and I don’t blame them,” he explained.
Sgt. Steve Gaskins says there are dozens of openings in the Tampa Bay region and while they have been able to respond to emergencies and provide adequate patrols, “the biggest thing you see is delayed response times on the side of the road, so if you’re involved in a crash it may take longer to get there because we only have a certain number of troopers,” he added.
Every state has state troopers, except Hawaii. Florida is fourth from the bottom when it comes to pay. Only Mississippi, Alabama and New Mexico pay their troopers less, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
The FHP trooper shortage comes as many law enforcement agencies statewide deal with a growing number of vacancies.
Gracey tells ABC Action News it’s a noble career where saving lives is second nature.
“The pride in being part of the organization is something you can’t really describe. It’s a feeling that never goes away,” he added.
If you’re interested in becoming an FHP trooper, here are the requirements. You can also find more information at www.beatrooper.com.
Applicants must meet one of the following:
- One year sworn or non-sworn law enforcement experience.
- Two years of active and continuous U.S. military service.
- Two years of employment with public contact experience.
- Thirty semester-hours or 45 quarter-hours at an accredited college or university.
Applicants must also meet all the following:
- Age: 19 years of age or older.
- Citizenship: You must be a United States Citizen or Naturalized Citizens. All Naturalization documentation must accompany application.
- Vision: Applicants must pass a thorough visual evaluation and meet the following requirements: Unaided vision not less than 20/200 in each eye and corrected to 20/30; Field of vision must be at least 140 degrees; Must have the ability to distinguish primary colors and have binocular vision; Must not have double vision, lack of depth perception or other chronic eye disorders that effect normal vision; Any visual disability, which prevents the performance of essential functions of an applicant, for which no reasonable accommodation is possible, shall disqualify the applicant.
- Education: High school diploma or a general equivalency diploma is required.
- Driver’s License: Applicants must possess a valid driver’s license.
- Criminal History Check: This position is subject a Level 2 background and CJIS security clearance, to include a fingerprint-based check of the criminal history records of the FBI, as a condition of employment pursuant to Chapter 10.1127, 435 and 943, Florida Statutes. As an applicant for positions requiring CJIS security clearance, you are required to disclose criminal records that have been sealed or expunged.
- Relocation: Applicants must be willing to serve anywhere in the state of Florida.