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County Officials Push For Trooper School

By David Howell

WATER VALLEY – Yalobusha supervisors are joining a push to lobby for funding for a new law enforcement school for troopers to help combat a statewide shortage.
    Supervisors voted 5-0 to send a letter to local representatives and Lt. Governor Tate Reeves requesting a new trooper school be funded during the 2014 Legislative Session.
    Board President Tommy Vaughn addressed the shortage at Monday’s meeting, after meeting last week with several troopers.
    Vaughn said the troopers were invited to Monday’s meeting, but were unable to attend due to previous commitment.
    “They were asking for anything we could do to help as far as writing letters to legislators and our state officials,” Vaughn reported.
    Vaughn noted that both Representative Tommy Reynolds and Governor Phil Bryant are among supporters working to fund the trooper school.
    In the weeks leading up to the legislative session, Bryant supported adding $6.9 million to the Department of Public Safety’s budget earmarked for a new trooper school. But the Legislative Budget Committee’s proposal did not include money for trooper training, setting the stage for the debate.
    Reeves told the Associated Press (AP) that some lawmakers believe the Department of Public Safety spends too little on things troopers need, like new vehicles.
    “The money does not seem to be getting troopers on the road,” Reeves told the AP about funding for the Department of Public Safety.
    Vaughn shared statistics cited by troopers showing a decline from over 400 troopers patrolling statewide in 1998 to around 210 currently.
    Vaughn also said the trooper shortage ultimately means the larger population areas in surrounding counties are often served first. He cited an example– an hour and 40 minute response time for the trooper to travel from Marshall County to Yalobusha to work a recent wreck in the county.
    “What this does, it falls right back on the sheriff (department) who has to work all these wrecks,” he explained.
    But Vaughn noted what’s even more disturbing is the safety aspect of the issue.
    “If you think about it, the City of Water Valley has radar, but the sheriff doesn’t have radar. He can’t give tickets. It’s very little leverage that the sheriff has to enforce speeding,” Vaughn said.
    Vaughn said this means there are fewer tickets cited for speeding on county roads or highways.
    “I am not saying that we need the money from tickets, but we need the safety of slowing these people down,” Vaughn added.
    Sheriff Lance Humphreys reported at Monday’s meeting that Troop E, which is composed of 10 counties including Yalobusha, is patrolled by 17 troopers.
    While supervisors agreed to send a letter supporting the trooper school, county officials also reached out to Yalobushians to help with the issue.
    With both Bruce TV-7’s news camera recording and the Herald’s audio recorder spinning during Monday’s meeting, Vaughn also urged the public to weigh in on the issue.
    “It means a lot if you write your congressman and tell them we need some help in our county,” Vaughn said  in Monday’s meeting, a sentiment that was shared by the board.
    “It’s kind of ridiculous, but when you come through Yalobusha County you don’t have to worry about speeding,” Vaughn added.
Ticket Count
    One way to measure troopers’ presence in the county are the number of traffic citations issued in the county.
    After Monday’s meeting, the Herald checked justice court records to determine the number of tickets written. Court clerks reported the number of tickets had declined in 2013, compared to previous years.
    The tickets are recorded based on the Judicial District in which they are written. In District One, which includes the bottom two-thirds of Yalobusha and the bulk of the highway mileage in the county, troopers have written almost 100 tickets per month from July to December, 2013. In January, almost 100 tickets were issued, according to court records.
    District One includes all but two miles of Interstate 55 and Hwy. 51 in Yalobusha County, as well as the bulk of Hwy. 7. Court records showed most of the tickets were written on I-55.
    In District Two, almost 13 tickets were issued monthly in the last half of 2013. Court records revealed no trooper tickets have been issued in District Two since mid-December. District Two includes the stretch of Hwy. 7 from roughly the Velma community north to the Lafayette-Yalobusha County line, plus the bulk of Hwy. 32 West  that extends from Water Valley to Oakland. District Two also includes Hwy. 32 East, from Water Valley to the Pine Valley community and Hwy. 315 from Water Valley to the Yalobusha-Calhoun County line.

Familiar Subject
    The trooper shortage in the county was first reported by the Herald last October after Humphreys reported a decrease both in trooper visibility and response time for accidents in the county.
    In November, Reynolds received a commitment from the Department of Public Safety to increase troopers’ presence in the county after sending a joint letter with Senators Lydia Chassaniol and Russell Jolley requesting help.
    Reynolds reported he would be a staunch supporter for funding the new school during the 2014 session, as he had been in previous years. He also reported the last trooper school in the state was held in 2011 and was funded with federal funds from Katrina.

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