Nearly a million people — that’s how many came to the North Carolina State Fair this year. That’s a million people on the road to and from one place who want nothing more than to just be safe.
That number includes fairgoer Sonja Matheny and her friends.
“The number one thing that I’m noticing is that we’ve had an increase in traffic overall,” Matheny told CBS 17.
But, there has not been a significant increase in North Carolina State Highway Patrol troopers.
CBS 17’s Russ Bowen caught up with Sgt. Andrew Pait who is a recruiter for the North Carolina State Highway Patrol.
“Being 204 short across the state, you know that’s a lot,” he said.
That’s a big gap that means fewer officers on roads that are more crowded and more dangerous.
“In the last five years we’ve had to step up our game in recruiting even more,” said Pait.
The agency is hitting military bases, community colleges and fairs. That includes the State Fair where Pait and his fellow officers manned a tent to try and find potential recruits.
But, it’s tough. They’re competing with other law enforcement agencies and jobs out of college that pay a lot more.
Wake County’s population has jumped 19 percent since 2009. The number of trooper positions is the same that it was then — 39.
Durham County’s population has jumped more than 15 percent in the same time period. But, the number of trooper positions covering that county has fallen from 12 to eight.
Cumberland County has seen a 4 percent jump in people living there. But, the trooper level still sits at 19.
Every three months, the number of assigned troopers to a county is recalculated based on the population and how many incidents troopers have responded to.
But, they also need to have the personnel for that to be effective. With an average of seven troopers retiring a month, it’s an uphill battle.
Pait explained by saying “it affects response time for motor vehicle collisions [and] response times in general.”
Just last week, 11-year veteran trooper Kevin Conner lost his life during a traffic stop.
It happened in the middle of the night in Columbus County in one of the most rural beats a trooper can be assigned to.
“Sometimes we’re just shorthanded and we have to do the best we can. You know, some of our counties we have only one trooper out at nighttime and we have to rely sometimes on the sheriff’s department to back us up,” said Pait.
It’s not just the public’s safety that’s at stake. It’s theirs too.
The North Carolina General Assembly raised trooper salaries last year which has helped with recruitment. The 401k is competitive and the pension is remarkable compared to corporate America.
On average, full retirement is 103 percent of salary. So you can retire essentially making the same salary.
That could be enough for Ryan Oldham to say yes.
“So we can keep crime down, keep speeds down on the road. Because I think that’s a big issue now on the highway. Just people going too fast, going crazy, people having DUIs,” he said.
The recruitment tent at the State Fair might pay off. That’s where Oldham met Pait. Oldham also thinks being a trooper is a real call to duty.
“There’s not as many state troopers out there now in North Carolina, they need more people and I would love to help out our state,” he said.
That sentiment is something Pait and his fellow troopers want to hear.
So does Sonja Matheny. As Matheny puts it “in order to keep things flowing, it’s necessary to have enough patrolman out there to insure our safety.”
As more people chose to move here, it’s a necessity that is becoming more urgent every day.