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South Dakota Highway Patrol struggles with trooper shortages

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South Dakota Highway Patrol

Several South Dakota Highway Patrol vehicles park outside the State Capitol building in Pierre for the agency's Class 67 graduation on Sept. 9. The Highway Patrol is facing a shortage of new recruits.

SIOUX FALLS — The South Dakota Highway Patrol is struggling with a shortage of officers after over two dozen left the agency this year, the head of the department told state lawmakers Thursday.

The departures leave the highway patrol's force short 22 troopers, which is nearly 10% of the force, Secretary of Public Safety Craig Price told the Legislature's Appropriations Committee. Even with a recent pay raise approved by Gov. Kristi Noem, the highway patrol's starting pay has lagged behind other law enforcement agencies in the state's largest cities and counties.

The shortage comes despite the Republican governor's attempts to recruit officers from across the country with promises that the state supports law enforcement officers. The highway patrol has lost 27 officers so far this year — more than any in the previous six years.

Price told lawmakers he hoped that a $1.50 hourly wage increase would alleviate the shortages. But he added it’s “likely that we will lose more in the next four months because of the way things have lined up.”

Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike questioned Price aggressively at times Thursday. He pointed out that in exit interviews, departing officers cite either pay or benefits as their reason for leaving 39% of the time.

“We take this low-wage strategy, and then we are surprised that we have hiring and retention challenges,” state Sen. Reynold Nesiba, a Democrat, said.

The appropriations committee pressed Price to return to the Legislature with a plan for addressing the troopers' departures.

“We are in this crisis mode,” said Republican Sen. Jean Hunhoff as she challenged Price to come up with ways to retain officers.

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