The new director of the Arkansas State Police said Thursday his first priority will be to recruit and rebuild the force.
Col. Stan Witt was named to the post by Gov. Mike Beebe in August, replacing former director J.R. Howard, who retired.
Speaking to the West Pine Bluff Rotary Club, Witt said the State Police currently has 517 troopers, the same number as they had a year ago, but 86 fewer than in 2001.
“The population of the state is up, so we’re doing more with less,” he said, citing the fact that in the first six months of this year, the State Police lost 529 years of experience as a result of troopers retiring.
Witt said the agency has an annual budget of $138 million, with 85 percent of that devoted to salaries and fringe benefits for employees.
Regarding his goal of rebuilding the force, Witt said it costs more than $100,000 to train and equip each trooper who is on the highway, which includes not only the salary and benefits, but such things as a car, uniforms, weapon, on board computer, and the other items that go with them.
“This is not a job everybody can do,” he said. “Last year, we started with 600 applicants, ended up interviewing 80, and offered jobs to 52,” Witt said. “As the premier law enforcement agency in the state, we hold our standards high and want total commitment from our troopers.”
In addition to recruiting, Witt said he plans to invest heavily in training for the department.
“Training might be the one thing that saves the life of a trooper, or saves the life of someone in this room,” he said.
Witt said the agency will begin a new troop school in January to train new troopers for highway patrol duties.
“If I had to go through that again, I would probably hang it up,” he said, describing the school as grueling.
“At the last troop school, we had the first person quit after 30 minutes and that person came out of the military,” he said.
“The biggest challenge is to find qualified troopers,” he said. “They’ve got to really want the job and really want to do the job.”
Witt said that while patrolling the state’s highways is the primary mission of the State Police, the agency’s CID (Criminal Investigation Division) also investigates major crimes statewide and assists local law enforcement agencies.
He also discussed the agency’s Crimes Against Children and Families Unit, which investigates cases of abuse and neglect.
“So far this year, we’ve had over 60,000 calls to the hot line,” he said. “That’s our biggest section and also has the biggest turnover because there’s a lot of stress involved in that job.”
He said his goal within five years will be to get the agency back up to between 570 and 575 people.
“We have a 30 member SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team and a 20 to 25 member hostage negotiating team that goes with the SWAT team,” Witt said. “When we have to activate them, that’s 55 people we’ve had to pull off the highways and that puts more of a burden on the guys in the troops that are left.”